Great players rise to the occasion in heightened situations.
For Shadow Ridge’s girls volleyball team, that means Whitnee Nihipali and Stacey Hone.
On Thursday, that standout tandem and a talented supporting cast reminded everyone the road to a regional title goes through Shadow Ridge, as the two-time defending Sunset Region champions defeated host Durango in the tournament semifinals, 25-23, 25-22, 25-20.
“We depend on all of our players, but obviously in big matches, we want to go to our big hitters,” Shadow Ridge coach Karissa Guthrie said. “And Whitnee and Stacey stepped up today.”
Nihipali had 20 kills and 13 digs, and Hone finished with 10 kills and two aces.
The Mustangs (27-6) will play in Saturday’s championship game at 2:30 p.m. at Coronado against Bishop Gorman, which defeated Palo Verde in its semifinal, 25-17, 25-13, 25-13.
“Since I’ve been doing this since freshman year, I want to keep this tradition going of winning regionals and getting to state,” Nihipali said. “I just want to get to state with my team.”
Durango (21-18), the Southwest’s No. 2 seed, gave the Mustangs fits throughout the match behind the play of Hailey Kraft, who had 12 kills and 14 digs, and Makenzi Abelman, who finished with 23 assists and 10 digs.
It was in the second set, with Durango controlling the tempo and leading 12-10, when things became intense. The teams alternated the next nine points until Shadow Ridge scored three straight to take a 17-16 lead. But a noninterference call on the line judge interrupted play and the Mustangs’ momentum.
Despite two Mustangs running directly into the judge, the noncall stood after the officials discussed it, and Durango scored the next three points to regain the lead, 19-17. Hone and Nihipali then took control, leading the Mustangs to score eight of the set’s final 11 points for a 2-0 lead in the match.
“At that particular time that was some good motivation, I think, for whatever reason,” Guthrie said. “They decided to take over; I would definitely agree that was kind of the turning point.”
Bishop Gorman 3, Palo Verde 0 — At Durango, the Gaels won in straight sets, 25-17, 25-13, 25-13, setting up a rematch from last year’s Sunset Region championship against Shadow Ridge.
Sydney Lobato had 18 assists, seven digs, six aces and two kills to lead Gorman (26-10), the Southwest’s No. 1 seed. Abbey Archambault had five kills, four aces, three blocks and two digs, Aly Nielson added 15 digs and Tommi Stockham had 11 kills for the Gaels.
Arien Fafard, who had four kills, five assists and three blocks to lead Palo Verde (21-16). Carli Tanner had nine digs and four kills, and Mia Sadler had nine assists and nine digs for the Panthers.