Warriors advance to state championship | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Warriors advance to state championship

Paul Andrew, Tribune correspondent

Don Mize / Special to the TribuneThe Warriors are on the verge of celebrating their seventh straight state volleyball championship. Whittell qualified for its seventh consecutive title match with a five-game win over Lincoln County on Friday in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS – For the fourth year in succession, the Whittell High Warriors’ volleyball team ended Lincoln County’s season Friday in the Nevada 2A state tournament. In a hard-fought battle in which the Lady Lynx made a valiant comeback, the Warriors held on to win 25-17, 25-18, 24-26, 26-28 and 15-10.

Despite the loss of two starters to injury and a defeat to rival Lovelock in last week’s regional championship in Zephyr Cove, the Warriors dug deep and put forth a complete team effort to hold off the tenacious Lynx in a heart-wrenching match that went to the limit.

“We played loose the first two games and took charge,” exhausted Whittell coach Tony Fathergill said after the match. “We panicked in games three and four and had too many unforced errors. Before the fifth game, we did a dance and came out with guns blazing.”

Now a seventh straight state volleyball championship is within reach of the Warriors (22-9). The Warriors will play The Meadows in the finals at noon Saturday. The Mustangs eliminated Northern 2A champion Lovelock in five games in the first semifinal.

The Warriors nearly met the same fate they experienced in the regional championship by winning the first two games, then losing the next three.

“I was really nervous before that fifth game,” said senior Austyn Herrera. “I knew we needed to pick up our energy. I’ve never had a state championship like the rest of the seniors, so this one is special.”

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The match started in typical Warriors’ fashion with Whittell jumping out to a 9-6 lead behind the strong hitting of middle blocker Isabel Concha-Foley. The senior, who has contributed to the previous two championships, kept the Lynx on their heels all game with her powerful kills.

Lincoln County came back to narrow the margin to 18-16 before three consecutive kills by 5-foot-3 sophomore Darby Reeder gave Whittell the eight-point win.

Whittell started the second game strongly behind the serving of Herrera and net play of Concha-Foley. Nina Jimenez, who has stepped up her game as a hitter and setter with the loss of senior captain Lauren Andrew to injury, pounded a left-handed kill to give the Warriors a 7-2 lead. A dink by senior Kristen Pfotenhauer extended Whittell’s lead to 12-4. Behind strong defense by Rachel Laub and Marissa Besson, Whittell held off a late Lynx rally for the seven-point, second game victory.

With their backs to the wall, down 2-0, the Lynx didn’t give up. After a smash by Concha-Foley gave Whittell a 24-21 lead and had the Warriors smelling a sweep, the Lynx capitalized on several Warriors’ mistakes to reel off the last five points for the win.

As was the pattern in the match, Whittell jumped out to a 9-5 lead on a smash by senior left hitter Jacquelyn Baines, who has played on three previous championship teams. Senior Marissa Smerek, however, led Lincoln County back, knotting the match at 11. The back-and-forth battle produced nine ties and went to extra points before outstanding defensive plays by the Lynx gave them the 28-26 victory.

With the momentum definitely in the favor of the champions from the south, the Warriors needed to step up, and they did.

“The seniors stepped up,” Fathergill said. “We were very motivated by the Lovelock loss and didn’t want that to happen again.”

With Herrera serving, Whittell bolted to a 5-0 lead. As usual, the Lynx fought back, closing the gap to 9-8. A kill by Reeder and a roof by Concha-Foley gave Whittell its second opportunity to close the match with a 14-9 lead. After another missed Whittell serve, Lincoln County regained service with hopes of another string of points. To the dismay of the Lynx crowd and the relief of the Warriors’ faithful, the Lincoln County server hit the final serve into the net, giving the Warriors the nail-biting victory.

Andrew, who will have surgery on her left knee later this month, reportedly offered encouragement to her teammates in the Warriors’ huddles during breaks in the action.