Bishop Gorman coach Gregg Nunley has never considered a fast start a prerequisite for his team winning a set.
But with the Desert Region title on the line against Durango Friday night, it was the team that took control early that ended up winning all five sets and they took turns doing so.
It was Gorman that got out of the gates first in the final set, and Tommi Stockham slammed down the last of her 26 kills on match point to close the second-seeded Gaels’ 25-20, 18-25, 25-22, 17-25, 15-7 win over the top-seeded Trailblazers at Green Valley.
“It is important to take control early, but I think that’s less of a factor for our team. I hardly ever take timeouts, so they know when they’re down it’s no big deal,” Nunley said. “We’ve been down 10 points before and won games. Taking an early lead is great, but I don’t think it’s that big of a factor for our team.”
Caroline Edgeworth dished out 41 assists, and Kyndaal Stansbury had seven blocks for Gorman (32-7).
The Gaels also received key kills and blocks from middle blockers Julianne Carlat and Sophia Ewalefo, and Morgan Mixer gave Durango trouble throughout the match from the service line.
“She’s an amazing server,” Stockham said of Mixer. “Every time she goes back there, I have so much confidence. Going on runs for our team is really good because it gives us a lot of confidence to get our momentum going.”
Kennedi Steele finished with 14 kills and 18 digs for Durango (31-7), which defeated Gorman in four sets during the regular season to claim the No. 1 seed for the tournament.
Anahua Faitau had 39 assists and 16 digs, and Jaquelyn Robinson added 14 kills, eight digs and two aces for Durango. Bailey Olbur was big in the middle with eight kills and six blocks for the Trailblazers.
Durango will meet Rancho, the Mountain Region runner-up, in the first round of the state tournament at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Desert Pines. The Gaels, who have advanced to each of the last three state championship matches and won two of them, will play in the state semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday at Faith Lutheran.
Palo Verde hadn’t forgotten the first time it played Rancho this season.
The Panthers won, but it felt like more of an escape than a five-set victory. They were determined to leave more of an impression in the Mountain Region championship match Friday, and they did just that.
Arien Fafard showed her full arsenal with 24 assists, eight kills, six digs and five blocks, and the top-seeded Panthers put the third-seeded Rams away in three sets, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23.
“We can talk about different things, but having gone through that one — we should have lost that match,” Palo Verde coach Phil Clarke said. “To be that close to losing and come back was a bit of a wake-up call. We were hoping to get another chance at them, and I think that helped that they had our 100 percent attention.”
The Panthers (31-3) showed their focus from the start. They jumped out to an 8-4 lead, taking advantage of some early overhitting from Rancho, and stretched the margin from there to claim the first set.
Fafard was the catalyst for the Panthers, but they got plenty of contributions elsewhere. Anais Badio had 11 kills, and Alyssa Hewitt and Haley Bringhurst each added four kills and three blocks.
Carli Tanner, who could only watch last year’s playoff run for Palo Verde after missing most of the season with a back injury, had four kills and eight digs. Tanner and Fafard, who has committed to UNLV, relished in grabbing the championship trophy as the team’s captains.
“It really is the best thing ever,” Tanner said. “I can’t even explain it. She’s my best friend. For us to be able to do this, especially right before we graduate and she goes off to UNLV, it means the world to me right now.”
Rancho (19-8) pushed the Panthers in the last two sets but never had a later lead than its 18-17 advantage in the third.
Leah Miller had 15 kills and eight digs, and Angelina Robles finished with six kills and 17 digs to lead the Rams. Jan Duhaylungsod had 27 assists and nine digs, and Kaille Ferguson recorded 14 digs for Rancho.
The Rams will meet Durango in the first round of the state tournament at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Desert Pines. Palo Verde’s state tournament opener will be in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday at Faith Lutheran.