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Bishop Gorman, Centennial take different paths to state volleyball

Updated November 10, 2021 - 2:34 pm

Bishop Gorman and Centennial have taken much different paths to reach the first Class 5A state girls volleyball tournament.

Gorman has been the state’s top program over the past five seasons, while Centennial has been rebuilding this season with a new coach and two players with varsity experience.

Gorman sailed through the 5A Mountain League without a loss. Centennial finished fourth in the same league, but pulled off upsets of Palo Verde and Silverado to clinch a berth in the state tournament before falling to Gorman in three sets in the regional final.

“When we played Gorman on Saturday, I think half of (our players) were going to throw up,” Centennial coach Kendalyn Hartsock said. “They were so nervous. We’d played them before, but it was the stage of a regional final and everybody being there. I just hope the next time we face them, we can stay composed.”

That next meeting would be Saturday if both get past their semifinals. Gorman faces Reno at 5 p.m. Friday, while Centennial meets Bishop Manogue.

The 4A and 1A state tournaments will begin Thursday. The 4A semifinals will be played at Faith Lutheran, with Sierra Vista facing Liberty at 5 p.m., followed by Arbor View taking on Rancho at 7 p.m. The 1A quarterfinals will be played at Hug High in Reno.

Gorman (29-6) had an advantage on much of its competition because of a shortened spring season that allowed it to mesh a talented group of now-sophomores with its leaders and upperclassmen such as setter Caroline Edgeworth and outside hitter Sophia Ewalefo.

“It was essential because we were able to take on more girls than we normally could, so we could work through different rotations,” Edgeworth said. “There were five freshmen, so just getting them playing with us, getting the plays and chemistry down helped us through this year.”

But after a perfect run through the Mountain League, the Gaels faced a two-set deficit to Faith Lutheran in their first match of the regional tournament before rallying to win in five sets.

“The good outcome from that was that we realized when things aren’t going our way we’ve got a plan,” Gorman coach Gregg Nunley said. “We can pull ourselves up from the bootstraps when we need to. I’ve got to give it to these kids for showing some grit and determination.”

Edgeworth is the only holdover as a starter in the same position from the 2019 state championship team. But having her as the leader on the floor in the most important position has helped the Gaels keep an even keel.

Nunley said he rarely tells Edgeworth what to do. He trusts her to run the show.

“It’s really nice having her there because the setter is the leader on the court,” sophomore Tatum Thompson said. “Her experience really shows through. She really is a calming influence on us.”

Hartsock has been focused on building her team for the future, but she didn’t want her seniors to sell themselves short on what they could accomplish this year.

The Bulldogs’ 13-21 record is a little misleading. There were several matches that could have gone either way. But winning tough matches doesn’t just happen. It’s often a skill that must be learned.

“Mentally is where we struggle,” Hartsock said. “When you have inexperienced players like we do and play a good opponent in a fifth set, you have to keep it together. We had four or five of those five-set matches we lost within a couple weeks, and it came down to experience and confidence.”

Gorman doesn’t have any issues with confidence. The Gaels are looking to send their seniors out with state titles in all three seasons in which there was one to be won.

“That would mean the world,” senior Imani Dambreville said. “I’m playing with girls I genuinely love and trust. It would mean so much considering how much we’ve grown since our freshman year to now, and to see them develop and play with them has been such an honor.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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