Shadow Ridge girls volleyball coach Karissa Guthrie gathered her players before Tuesday’s matchup with Bishop Gorman to deliver one message.
“It’s just a game,” she repeatedly said.
The 12th-year coach, knowing her players might be a little tense playing in a rematch of last season’s Division I Sunset Region final, did her best to “tone it down.”
It worked early, and then the talent and confidence simply took over.
Whittnee Nihipali had 28 kills and 21 digs as the host Mustangs held on to defeat Bishop Gorman, 25-20, 25-21, 27-29, 22-25, 19-17.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Guthrie said. “They always come in and give us a good match. This wasn’t going to be any different. These matches are really good for us early on in the season.”
Nihipali had six kills and a key ace in the decisive fifth set. With her team trailing 12-10 and coming out of a timeout, Nihipali put down a cross-court kill and served an ace to tie the match and swing momentum back to Shadow Ridge (9-1).
The junior also had the go-ahead kill to make it 18-17. Shadow Ridge then won on a hitting error by Gorman.
“She lays it all out there,” Guthrie said. “She’s dripping wet at the end of sets. She’s huffing and puffing. She’s throwing her body all over the place. It’s fun to watch her.”
Stacey Hone had 23 kills, three aces, 10 digs and two blocks, and Autumn Spendlove added 56 assists and nine digs for Shadow Ridge, which also got 32 digs from Braedyn Peters.
The Mustangs, behind their rowdy crowd that continually chanted, ‘We are Shadow,’ throughout the five sets, grabbed the first set with relative ease after storming to a 20-12 lead.
In the second set, Shadow Ridge closed the set on a 5-0 run, capped by an ace from Kizzy Arroyo.
Gorman, though, wouldn’t go away in its first contest of the season.
The Gaels overcame 10 ties and seven lead changes to win the third set, 29-27. In the fourth set, Lilly Hoff’s kill gave Gorman a 25-22 win.
“We knew they were going to come back and battle,” Guthrie said. “So it was still, ‘We have to do the right things. We have to stay disciplined.’ And if all those things came together, then we’d be successful in the end.”
Alexandra Washington led Gorman with 15 kills and four blocks.
Hanna Karl had 11 kills, Ashley Brennan added eight kills and three blocks, and Hoff dished out 30 assists for the Gaels (0-1).
“I was really pleased with the way we battled,” Gorman coach Ed Van Meetren said. “We fought every point, we never gave up. They could have caved after the second set, but we came out in the third set and took it to them. We battled all night long. We played hard. We weren’t really smart, especially early. We still have more adjustments to do, but we’ve got to find out who we are.”