After losing in the Sunset Region championship volleyball match the last two years, Palo Verde was determined to not to fall short three years in a row.
And after faltering in the first set Friday against Centennial, the Panthers played like a team dead-set against repeating history, rallying to defeat the Bulldogs 22-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-15 to earn the Class 4A Sunset Region title.
Grant Tingey, Palo Verde’s senior middle blocker, said after coming up short in the title match the last two seasons, the Panthers (28-9) were focused in their quest to capture the championship this year.
“We talked about that in the start of the fourth set. We didn’t want to let them back in it,” Tingey said. “All of us that were on the court (Friday) have been here before at least once and lost. So, we really wanted to close it out.”
Down one set and holding a 15-14 edge in the second, Palo Verde seized momentum as kills by Stephen Banks, Chandler Juilfs and Kainoa Villa sparked a 7-1 run that extended the lead to 22-15, and seemed to spark their dominance for the rest of the contest.
“There was a lot more motivation coming from everybody. We all just tried to pick each other up,” said Scott Solan, who finished with 10 kills and 5 assists. “From there we just started working and trying to bring back good habits, and that got us more and more momentum throughout the match and got us where we needed to be.”
Trailing 14-12 in the third set, Tingey had a pair of kills that keyed the Panthers to a 9-3 run that put them in control. Then in the fourth, Solan had a pair of kills to help Palo Verde take a 15-10 lead. Later in the set, Stephen Banks had a kill, a block and a kill to cap a run of eight consecutive points that put the Panthers up 23-12.
Juilfs had the final kill on championship point to clinch the tournament title.
“I think once we got our passes there, our passes were really key,” Tingey said. “That’s what gets us going. We got some good passes out of serve-receive, and some good digs from all of that. That led to some great kills.”
Centennial (32-10) started hot and drew first blood. After a block and a kill by Tingey gave Palo Verde a 22-20 lead, back-to-back kills by Antwaun Smith and another by Kade Frischknecht sparked a 5-0 run for the Bulldogs, to clinch the first set, 25-22.
“All credit to Centennial,” Tingey said. “They played a great game. They came out swinging. I think in the first set we came out a little flat. But we just really didn’t want it to go to five, so we really felt like we had to get it going the second set. So, we just tried to swing the momentum on our side.”
As the Panthers head to the Class 4A state tournament next week, Tingey said going in with a win in the Sunset championship should give the team a boost.
“A lot of us are feeling really confident,” Tingey said. “And confidence is key.”