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DIVISION IV VOLLEYBALL: Panthers give Whipple another title

Pahranagat Valley girls volleyball coach Ginger Whipple is no stranger to championships.

But that doesn’t mean the longtime coach didn’t appreciate her team’s performance on Saturday.

The Panthers defeated Smith Valley 25-23, 23-25, 25-15, 25-12 at Green Valley High to capture the Division IV state title. It’s the 16th state championship for Whipple, who has been coaching the Panthers since 1980.

“I’m extra proud of my girls,” Whipple said. “Every one is special to me, every state is special. It’s like getting it for the first time.”

Pahranagat Valley (30-2) didn’t lose to a Division IV team this season. The Panthers’ two losses came against Division III state semifinalist Calvary Chapel.

“It is impressive,” Whipple said. “To look at them warm up, you wouldn’t see that. These girls have a lot of grit and have stayed up. They don’t give up on themselves.”

Pahranagat Valley doesn’t have much size. The Panthers feature a 5-foot-6-inch middle blocker, but the team is able to overcome its lack of height.

“I’ve told them forever that size doesn’t matter,” Whipple said. “I’m super proud of these girls. They’re so small, and for them to overcome that height issue, I’m just really proud of them.”

The Panthers got off to a strong start in the first set Saturday. Kennedy Huntsman delivered an ace to start a 3-0 streak. The rest of the set was neck-and-neck and featured eight ties.

The Bulldogs rallied to win the second set after being down 23-21. They finished on a 4-0 run, thanks to three Panther errors and a block by Kellie Rogaczewski.

Rogaczweski finished with nine kills and nine blocks for Smith Valley (22-10), which got seven kills, 16 digs and two blocks from Katie Ladd.

After dropping the second set, Pahranagat Valley won the next two convincingly on the shoulders of seniors Hunstman (29 assists, seven aces), Traci Strong (16 kills, 13 digs, three aces) and Bailee Hosier (11 kills, 16 digs, two aces).

“We made a lot of hitting errors tonight, but we weathered that storm,” Whipple said. “The seniors still led and didn’t get down on themselves. They brought the team with them.

“Those three girls have carried the team (all year).”

Hunstman said: “It’s my last year, so it meant a lot more. I felt we, as seniors, had to carry the team. I am thrilled, so excited.”

Smith Valley lost in the state semifinals last year. Coach Ally Sceirine remained positive and proud of her team.

“I’m super proud of my girls,” Sceirine said. “They’ve come a long way. I just told them to not cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened. They never quit trying. They played hard and left it all out on the court. As far as our school goes, this is a huge deal.”

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