Whittnee Nihipali has gotten most of the volleyball headlines in her four years at Shadow Ridge, and deservedly so.
She’s a four-year starter, an Under Armour Preseason All-American and the No. 72 prospect in the nation.
But the Arizona-bound senior isn’t the only reason the Mustangs feel confident entering the Class 4A state tournament Friday at Faith Lutheran.
“It’s good that we can go to her, especially when we need that kill,” senior teammate Madyson Lousignont said. “But we have a lot of different hitters. If we need to set Kizzy (Rodriguez) or Kahea (Nihipali) or me, our setters trust us to put the ball down. A lot of schools don’t have that.”
Nor do they have a roster with 12 battle-tested upperclassmen, including seven seniors.
Shadow Ridge (29-11) will make its third state tournament appearance in four seasons when it faces Coronado (27-9) — the Sunrise Region champion — in a semifinal at 5:40 p.m. The Mustangs won both regular-season meetings, including a five-set victory to open their season Aug. 29.
“I’m ready to go. I’m hyped,” Nihipali said. “I think we can do it.”
Operative word: “We.”
The 6-foot-2-inch Nihipali has almost 400 kills this season, is one of the state’s leading candidates for Gatorade Player of the Year and has shown the ability to take over matches at any given moment.
But she knows the program won’t win its first state title based off any individual performance. Nihipali was there for the heartbreak as a freshman in 2014, seeing the Mustangs unravel before getting swept by Coronado in the state championship.
“We’ve been making Whittnee understand it doesn’t always fall on her shoulders,” Shadow Ridge coach Karissa Guthrie said. “That she’s got other players around her that can take it. … She wants that send-off. Everyone wants that send-off. So it’s just continuing to play team ball like we can.”
As they have all season.
Behind an unpredictable spread-out offense, Shadow Ridge lost to only one Nevada opponent — albeit, three times — this season. The Mustangs want another rematch with Bishop Gorman, which won the Sunset Region title last Friday by rallying from a two-set deficit.
Guthrie said that match hasn’t weighed on the Mustangs since, especially considering they swept Silverado in a state play-in Monday. If anything, she said, it has been used as a learning tool.
“I chalk it up to good experience, really,” Guthrie said. “We were lucky enough that state’s down here (in Southern Nevada) and we got another opportunity to get in.”
It’s an opportunity Guthrie and her players said they won’t waste.
“We all just want it,” senior Kizzy Rodriguez said. “We have that hunger. It’s our last year — our last week to do something.”
Gorman (29-10) plays Bishop Manogue (28-5) in the other semifinal at 7:30 p.m. The winners will meet at 2 p.m. Saturday for the championship.