Tyler Capko felt his heart freeze as Palo Verde teammate Nick Hipwell elevated for one final kill Wednesday.
The Class 4A boys volleyball state championship seemed suspended in air with the ball above the net.
Moments after an emphatic kill by Hipwell, both players were engulfed in a mosh pit celebrating the Panthers’ first state title since 2006.
After wasting a two-game lead and being forced to play a decisive fifth game, Palo Verde held on for a 25-19, 25-20, 18-25, 18-25, 15-13 victory over Coronado at Sierra Vista.
“On the last play, I figured it was for a state championship, so it’s got to be a big hit,” said Hipwell, who had seven kills. “That was one we planned out. We got a perfect pass out, perfect set and I just put it down.”
In doing so, he helped the Panthers complete a Cinderella run from third place in the Northwest League all the way to the state championship.
“It means a lot to us,” Hipwell said. “We’ve had so many lineup changes. We were not ourselves for the first month of the regular season, and we finally came out in the playoffs and won a state championship.”
Capko couldn’t stop smiling afterward.
“It was nuts,” he said. “I don’t even remember what happened. Unbelievable.”
That about summed up a fifth game that was tied five times and in which Coronado rallied from a 5-2 hole to within 14-13 on a kill by Chris Austin.
That’s when Palo Verde coach Phil Clarke called timeout to set up the final play for Hipwell, a 6-foot-5-inch junior opposite.
“It’s nice having a big lefty opposite,” Clarke said with a smile.
Capko had 21 kills and six aces to lead Palo Verde (20-5), which beat previously unbeaten Shadow Ridge, 2008 state runner-up Centennial, defending state champion Las Vegas and Sunrise Region champion Coronado on its title march.
“I don’t have the words,” Clarke said. “To be up 2-0, then it all comes down to one (game), I’m just so happy for these guys.”
Clarke said he couldn’t think of a better way for his seven seniors to end their careers.
“They were talking on the bus that it’s going to be their last time, their last everything, and this is what we wanted,” he said. “We just kept fighting, kept fighting and were able to pull it out.”
Matt Lish had 41 assists for the Panthers. Shaun Carroll added 12 kills and Matt Phillips 11 digs.
Eric Boman had 26 kills and 12 digs to lead Coronado (22-2), which has been to the state tournament three times in four years, but without a title.
Hunter Chaney supplied 31 assists, nine digs and two blocks for the Cougars. Bryan Arana added eight kills, eight digs and three blocks, and Jordan Osmundson had five kills and two blocks.
“It shows a lot of heart in our guys,” Coronado coach Brock Mitchell said of the rally. “It shows they are a hungry team, they’re a deserving team.
“The fifth game came down to two points. It could have been ours. It just wasn’t in the cards.”
Mitchell said the Cougars improved in multiple areas to rally from the two-game deficit.
“We started passing a little better,” he said. “Our ball control picked up. We started digging some balls. We just upped our focus defensively, and I think that really made a big difference for us.”
NOTES — It was the final match at Coronado for Mitchell, who is leaving after three seasons to become a volunteer assistant coach at Weber State. … Palo Verde’s victory marked the first time since its last title in 2006 that a region champion won state as well. … Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association executive director Eddie Bonine presented Clark’s boys volleyball team (3.53 grade-point average) with an academics award prior to the match.