Whittell shines in bright lights of Las Vegas | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Whittell shines in bright lights of Las Vegas

Jeremy Evans

The 2005 Durango Fall Classic was considered the most difficult high school volleyball tournament in the country. Five teams ranked among the top 25 nationally were in the field.

So when 2A Whittell, which has an enrollment of just over 200 students, was invited to participate in this year’s event, coach Dan McLaughlin was elated. But when he found out last Thursday that he’d have to play without his starting setter, he was unsure about his team’s prospects.

With Sarah Ingenluyff suspended for disciplinary reasons, Whittell’s first game on Friday in Las Vegas was against Berkeley Prep (Tampa, Fla.), the seventh-ranked team in the country, according to prepvolleyball.com.

“Without Sarah, I wanted to win a game in the whole tournament,” said McLaughlin, who has led the Warriors to three 2A state titles since 2000. “With Sarah, I never could’ve thought of winning our pool.”

However, that’s exactly what the Warriors did, stunning Berkeley Prep in two games, then winning two more matches on Friday to finish first in their pool. Whittell beat 4A Durango of Las Vegas in two games and Central Valley power Clovis in three games.

After the emotional high of beating a nationally ranked team and one of California’s top teams on Friday, the Warriors lost their next four matches on Saturday to finish 16th out of 32 teams. Since the top two teams advanced out of the eight pools, Whittell was the only team in the field that advanced out of pool that wasn’t seeded 16th or higher going into the tournament.

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The Warriors, who were seeded 21st, also finished the highest among the eight Nevada teams in the tournament, all of which were 4A teams. Defending 4A state champion Galena finished 19th.

“But on Saturday we were never able to get back what we had on Friday,” McLaughlin said. “I think Berkeley had no idea who we were and what we were about. On Saturday, teams figured out how to play us. They knew Jessica (Woods) was an outstanding player and they stopped playing her the ball. Teams stopped serving her.”

Sophomore Jordan Reeder, who was on the JV team last year, filled in for Ingenluyff and had little problem adjusting to her new role. Woods and middle Kelly Karmann, meanwhile, also turned some heads.

In the first game against Berkeley Prep, Karmann made several crucial plays. En route to a 25-16 Whittell victory, she neutralized 6-foot-3 middle Janet Okogaba, a Stanford-bound player ranked among the top recruits nationally, and also 6-foot-2 Courtney Cohen, who has signed with Georgetown.

In the second game, with the scored tied at 23, Karmann blocked Okogaba to give Whittell a 24-23 lead, then Katrina Kacirek followed with an ace as the Warriors won 25-23. Whittell beat Durango 25-20, 25-19 in its second match, then beat Clovis in three games after losing the first game.

Clovis took second in the pool and placed 10th overall. No. 1 Assumption (Ky.) beat No. 2 Mira Costa (Calif.) in the tournament championship on Saturday.

“Kelly and Jessica proved they belong,” McLaughlin said. “Jessica wasn’t outplayed by anybody. Kelly was a bit up and down. But when she was consistent, she also wasn’t outplayed by anybody. We really gave ourselves a pat on the back for this. This was just an amazing tournament.”

The Warriors (12-6) have a busy week ahead. They travel to Lovelock on Tuesday, host Northern 2A games against Battle Mountain and Silver Stage on Friday, then face Silver Stage again on Saturday.

In a nonleague game on Friday, Oakmont (Calif.) defeated South Tahoe. No other details were available at press time.