DIVISION I VOLLEYBALL: Panthers spread the ball around, earn spot in final

Palo Verde boys volleyball coach Phil Clarke doesn’t mind not having a big, go-to outside hitter on his team because it allows setter Cole Willson the freedom to fully direct the offense.

Willson, a senior, got all of his teammates involved on Tuesday, as the Panthers held on for a 25-22, 22-25, 25-15, 25-17 win over host Las Vegas in the Division I state semifinals.

Palo Verde (31-11) will face Legacy (19-6) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the state final at Las Vegas High.

“We have been on him since day one about not riding one guy,” Clarke said. “We have weapons. It’s a lot easier for (opposing) teams if they just have to focus on one guy. Cole did a good job of spreading the ball around, and the other guys did a good job of putting it away.”

Willson, who had 48 assists, made it a point to get more of his teammates involved after the teams split the first two sets.

After dumping a kill to start the third set, Willson began alternating his sets between Michael Simister, Parker Nelson and Tristan Bradford the rest of the way to keep the defense honest.

“The ball started to spread around more in that third set,” said Willson, who added two kills and 11 digs. “I feel like I stayed in the middle more in the first and second sets, but (after that) I went to different spots.”

Simister, Nelson and Bradford each had 12 kills for the balanced Panthers. Nelson also had four blocks, and Simister added 16 digs.

“This is one of the closest groups that we’ve had,” Clarke said. “Very selfless, and that kind of shows with the stats. We don’t just have one guy.”

With the score tied at 6 in the third set, Palo Verde used a 6-0 run to grab control. Las Vegas hit a service error to start the run, and Chandler Juilfs added two kills in the span. The Wildcats would get no closer than five points the rest of the set.

Palo Verde then opened the fourth set on a 10-4 run and never looked back. Nelson had the match-winning block for the Panthers.

“We had a couple guys laying out for us, showing the heart and effort,” Clarke said. “There were times we could’ve gotten rattled, but they focused in. They never let the noise and atmosphere get to them. We stayed within our game plan.”

Palo Verde, which has beaten Legacy twice in three matches this season, will be looking for its first state championship since 2009.

Brandon Kampshoff had 14 kills and 14 digs, and Ryan Magante added nine kills, nine digs and two aces for Las Vegas (14-11).

Luis Wong had 23 assists and 15 digs, and Royce Reyes had 19 assists for the Wildcats.

Legacy 3, Foothill 2 — The Longhorns closed out the fifth set on 6-1 run, capped by a kill by Omari Wheeler, to grab a 25-23, 22-25, 25-18, 24-26, 15-11 win over the Falcons in the other semifinal.

Wheeler finished with 15 kills, four digs, three blocks and two aces.

Zaire Franklin added 22 kills and 24 digs, and Anthony Delgado had 62 assists and 25 digs for Legacy.

Shilo Chow led Foothill with 11 kills, 36 assists and 14 digs. Colin Curi contributed 19 kills and 11 digs, and Zachary Thompson added six kills and four blocks for the Falcons (23-18).

Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at or 702-383-0430. Follow him on Twitter: @af_ferguson.