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SUNSET VOLLEYBALL: Kinney, underdog Panthers overcome early deficit to down Centennial

Kayla Kinney has seen many different postseason scenarios in her time on Palo Verde’s girls volleyball team.

She’s seen the Panthers head into a season as the favorite to win state, as top contenders, and then there’s this year, in which they’re considered an underdog.

The underdog role fit Palo Verde perfectly in the Sunset Region quarterfinals on Tuesday as the Panthers rallied from an early deficit to down host Centennial, 15-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-18.

“It was definitely fun being the underdog going into it,” said Kinney, a 5-foot-11-inch middle blocker. “They’re great competitors, and we knew this was going to be tough coming into it. But that just made us work more.”

Palo Verde (17-20) will face Southwest League champion Shadow Ridge (24-12) at 5 p.m. Thursday at Arbor View in the semifinals.

Trailing the Bulldogs 10-6 early in the second set, Palo Verde used a big shot by Riley Riddels to ignite its run. After tying the set at 13, Palo Verde’s Katie Condron made back-to-back plays at the net to give the Panthers a 15-13 edge. From there, they never looked back, as Riddels’ kill moments later put them ahead 21-16.

“We were a little nervous, and it showed in the first set,” Palo Verde coach Phil Clarke said. “We talked about using that underdog mentality, and the girls embraced it.”

With the third set tied 21-21, Kinney took over with a kill that put the Panthers up by one, and later a roll shot that dipped between two Bulldogs and gave Palo Verde a 24-21 lead. The Bulldogs’ final attempt to salvage the set sailed wide.

“We just had to play as hard as we can, work as hard as we can and make sure the team is positive,” Kinney said. “We have a lot of young players so we have to make sure they’re not nervous and just play hard and be as scrappy as they can.”

The final set was controlled by Palo Verde from the start. Each time Centennial made a run, the Panthers had an answer.

Palo Verde senior Virginia Rallo, a foreign exchange student from Italy, came up with a pair of huge digs and a key shot late, dousing any chance of the Bulldogs gaining momentum.

Centennial (21-14) got as close as 21-18 in the final set, but once the Panthers got the serve back, they never relinquished it. Kinney’s kill at the net ended the match.

“We are pretty young in some spots, and where we may not be young, we’re inexperienced,” Clarke said. “But Kayla is the only one with really a lot of playoff experience, and they follow her.”

Kinney finished with 22 kills and 26 digs, and Rallo added 23 digs. Emma Gutierrez had 33 assists and seven digs, while Jaylin Ellis had 21 digs.

Siara Roberts had 10 kills, 24 digs and five aces, and Talie Bonds had eight kills, 17 digs and 17 assists for Centennial. Also contributing for the Bulldogs were Kjersten Saunders (32 digs, two aces) and Gabrielle Neuman (seven digs, seven kills and 20 assists).

Shadow Ridge 3, Desert Oasis 0 — At Shadow Ridge, Whittnee Nihipali tallied 23 kills, eight digs and two aces, and Eadara Files had 33 assists as the Mustangs downed the Diamondbacks, 25-11, 25-14, 25-13.

Kizzy Rodriguez supplied 15 digs and four aces for Shadow Ridge.

Desert Oasis finished 10-22.

Bishop Gorman 3, Bonanza 0 — At Gorman, Sydney Lobato had 31 assists and four kills to lead the Gaels to a 25-20, 25-18, 25-13 victory over the Bengals.

Alysia Nielson supplied 15 digs and four aces, and teammate Vashti Cunningham added 11 kills for Gorman (25-13), which will visit Arbor View (22-14) in a region semifinal at 7 p.m. Thursday. Kylie Gibson and Ashley Brennan each added seven kills for Gorman.

Hayley Hunstman notched 18 assists and six kills, and Brianna Hernandez-Silva tallied five digs to lead Bonanza (25-11).

Arbor View 3, Legacy 0 — At Arbor View, Alyson Jeeves tallied 37 assists and five digs, and Hannah Goddard had 19 kills and two aces to help the Aggies sweep the Longhorns, 28-26, 25-18, 25-14.

Alyssa Jeeves supplied 14 digs, and Sarah Goddard added eight kills and two aces for Arbor View.

Legacy finished 24-9.

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