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SUNRISE VOLLEYBALL: Falcons fight back in fifth set to edge Silverado

There wasn’t much Foothill girls volleyball coach Chris Sisson could say as his players sat on the bench waiting for one final pep talk Thursday. His squad had just blown all of a two-set lead and had no momentum whatsoever.

“I just told them to have huge confidence in what we do,” Sisson said. “I told them I believe in our training. We needed to make some adjustments, and all six people needed to do their individual jobs.”

Sisson said just enough, as the Falcons rallied from a fifth-set deficit to defeat Silverado 25-16, 26-24, 20-25, 20-25, 16-14 in the Sunrise Region semifinals at Foothill.

The win lifted the Falcons (15-23) into Friday’s championship match at Arbor View, where they will face Coronado (28-10).

Courtney Nilson led Foothill with 18 kills, three of which came in the Falcons’ easy first-set win.

“We came out and made a couple of runs,” Sisson said. “Maybe we had too much confidence going into the second set.”

The Skyhawks (11-8) looked stronger in the second, taking a late lead before Nilson’s four kills got the Falcons back in it. Some late mistakes cost Silverado, allowing Foothill to escape with a 2-0 lead.

Sisson said he could see the Skyhawks were finding a groove.

“They stuck to their game plan,” he said. “And they began executing almost flawlessly.”

That mistake-free play led to a Silverado rally, as Sydney Berenyi scored four points in the third set and six in the fourth to help the Skyhawks tie it at 2-2.

The Falcons fell behind 10-5 in the final set on a block by Silverado’s Tehani Faitau and appeared to be buried. But Foothill chipped away at the deficit and tied the score at 10-10 on back-to-back kills by Whitley Brow. A subsequent block and two kills by Alyssa McCoy gave Foothill a 15-14 lead, and Foothill won it when the Skyhawks’ final shot sailed long.

Sisson credited Nilson, who was benched for ineffective play in the Falcons’ quarterfinal win over Liberty on Tuesday.

“A huge pat on the back for her,” Sisson said. “She made the adjustments she needed to make and executed her job.”

Brow finished with 13 kills for Foothill. McCoy added eight kills and eight blocks, and Illiana Ortega added 25 digs.

Berenyi led Silverado with 22 digs. Faitau added 35 assists, and Mariah Morris had 17 kills.

Coronado 3, Green Valley 0 — The Cougars took the court with a number of undisclosed concerns, but showed no signs of distress at any point in the night.

Nikki Jackson had 11 kills and five blocks to lead Coronado, which rolled to a 25-18, 25-23, 25-14 victory over Green Valley in the other semifinal.

“We had to battle through some illness and other stuff tonight,” Coronado coach Matt Johnson explained. “The first two games were close, but to pull them out in a championship atmosphere says a lot. The girls really grinded it out.”

The first set remained close throughout, as neither team led by more than three points until a kill by Jackson gave Coronado a 20-16 lead. Carolyn Andulis added a pair of timely kills to help the Cougars finish off the set with an 8-2 scoring run.

Green Valley (16-17) again kept it close in the second, briefly taking a 16-15 lead on a Coronado error. The Gators faded momentarily, but tied it at 20 on an ace by Rachel Klopfer. The Cougars went ahead 24-22 on a kill by Navi Lee and held off a late Green Valley rally.

“We were expecting things to go exactly like that,” Johnson said. “We knew Green Valley would come out with guns blazing.”

Coronado established the tempo early in the third set, grabbing a 9-3 lead on back-to-back kills by Jackson. The Gators inched back, but key kills by Emily Bender and Alexandra Portugue helped the Cougars put it away. Match point scored when an errant Green Valley pass landed untouched.

“I think we just started playing with more confidence in the third set,” said Johnson, whose team went 3-0 against the Gators this season. “The girls believed there were things they could do to control the pace.”

Bender finished with 13 digs, 10 kills and three blocks to help Coronado. Teammate Cali Thompson added 40 assists and three kills.

Klopfer led the Gators with nine kills, and teammate Carlee Becker added 20 assists and seven digs.

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