Palo Verde assistant coach Brittney Tejada noticed it while the Panthers were on their way to Coronado for the Mountain Region championship match against Faith Lutheran.
“She noticed they were locked in,” Palo Verde coach Phil Clarke said. “There’s a different vibe, a different feeling going on with this group.”
The Panthers focus showed as they dominated their league rival in a 25-19, 25-20, 25-21 victory on Friday night.
“We work so hard,” junior setter Arien Fafard said. “So for it to all work out the way we wanted it to, with your best friends, is so good.”
The win propelled Palo Verde into a match for the Southern Nevada title on Saturday at 4 p.m. against Bishop Gorman. The Gaels beat host Coronado for the Desert Region title in the early match.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had them,” Clarke said of the Gaels. “They are big. They are powerful. They have a lot of weapons. We’re going to try to make them work.”
The Panthers on Friday seized an 11-6 lead over the Crusaders and cruised to a first-set victory. In the second, Palo Verde trailed 6-5 before rolling off 12 consecutive points during a 15-2 run.
“We don’t have too many like that,” Clarke said. “In fact, we’re usually playing from behind. So that almost scared me, too. You know Faith is a good team. You know they are going to answer.”
Palo Verde overcame an early defecit in the third set with a 7-1 run to take a 20-18 lead. Faith tied it at 20-20, but the momentum had swung and the Panthers closed out the set and the match with another 5-1 rally.
“I feel like it’s our chemistry,” Fafard said. “We are all so close. We’re best friends on and off the court.”
Fafard accumulated 29 assists, 16 digs and contributed seven kills to the winning effort. Kaila Yang was the recipient of many of those assists, getting a team-high 12 kills to go with nine digs. Mia Sadler added 23 digs for the winners.
Kyrie Lorfing had an all-around night for the Crusaders with 13 assists and 13 digs to go with those 15 kills. Hailey Carroll had 14 assists and 13 digs.