SUNSET VOLLEYBALL: Mustangs trail early, rally past Panthers to capture first region title

All season long, Shadow Ridge girls volleyball coach Karissa Guthrie has talked to her Mustangs about character and toughness.

Both of those attributes certainly were tested Friday night against Palo Verde in the Sunset Region final.

Trailing in each of the first two sets, the Mustangs picked themselves off the floor and rolled to a 25-21, 25-22, 25-19 victory over the Panthers at Silverado for the team’s first region title. Shadow Ridge (25-9) advances to the state tournament next weekend in Reno.

“Wow, what a feeling,” said Guthrie. “We have been tested all season long, and tonight was no exception. But we kept challenging the players about toughness, and they continue to respond.”

In the first set, Palo Verde led by as much as seven and took a 17-11 lead on Kayla Kinney kill. However, the Mustangs used their biggest weapon — senior Ashley Smith — to rally. Smith had four kills during a 14-4 run that gave Shadow Ridge the opening set.

“We wanted to get the momentum, but Palo kept fighting,” said Guthrie. “We didn’t panic and the girls knew to keep fighting, and that’s what they did.”

The second set was much like the first, as Palo Verde came quick out of the gate behind the play of Kinney and outside hitter Kendall Cheval to build a 10-4.

The Panthers (28-10) still led 19-13 but again the Mustangs rallied. Smith and Chloe Gruwell led the Shadow Ridge charge with four kills each.

“We started each set well, but just got back breaks at the finish,” said Palo Verde coach Phil Clarke. “The girls played very well, and a bounce here or there could have changed things.”

But in the third set, Shadow Ridge raced to an 11-5 lead and never looked back.

“I told the girls to not let the foot off the throttle,” said Guthrie. “I told them we were 25 points away from the title, and they responded.”

Smith led the Mustangs with 22 kills and 12 digs, and Gruwell added 17 digs, 11 kills and five aces. Easton Clements had seven digs, six kills and three blocks. Eadara Files had 38 assists.

McKenzie Paulk had 25 assists and eight digs for Palo Verde, and Faryn Duncan added 25 digs. Cheval had nine kills and nine digs.

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