Senator spikers surprise McQueen

RENO- Carson volleyball coach Shana Wilkins doesn't keep statistics in regional playoff games because she believes the only numbers that should count are the ones on the scoreboard at the end of the game.

Since that's the case, she's got to happy with these numbers: 25-22, 25-20, 25-27 and 25-20 - in favor of the Sierra League No. 4 seed Senators, who upset High Desert League champion and No. 1 seed McQueen in the first round of the NIAA Northern 4A regional championships Friday at Galena High School.

With the victory, Carson improved to 18-12 on the season and, more important, won its first playoff match since 2002, when it lost in the semifinals.

The Senators will try and take their season one step further at noon today, when they face Reno, which defeated Galena in four games to advance to the semifinals.

In the other semifinal game, defending state champion Damonte Ranch, which defeated Manogue in five games, will meet the Sierra League champion Douglas Tigers, who took a three-game win win over Fallon.

"It feels amazing. There are no words to explain how happy and proud I am for my team," said junior middle blocker Nikki Keller, who along with junior setter Shannon Earwood, gave the Lancers fits all night at the net. "I don't know what happened. All I know is that we came out and played our hearts out. I'm speechless. I have an amazing setter and we couldn't have played a better team. (McQueen) is an amazing team."

An amazing team, true - and probably an amazed team as well.

Carson took the Lancers to five games earlier in the season, leading two games to none before McQueen rallied to a victory over the Senators, who have only two seniors.

"It looked just like the last time," Wilkins said of Carson's two-game game lead. "We got nervous and tired and they stepped it up."

The Senators looked anything but nervous early on as they rallied from a 14-10 first-game deficit. McQueen last led that game 15-14 before the Senators turned it on with two kills and a block by senior outside hitter Morgan Nuckolls, a block by junior middle blocker Kailey Taylor and a pair of kills by the omnipresent Keller.

Junior right side Danae Eckart added a kill to make it 24-21 in favor of Carson, but after McQueen's Vanessa Wehrkamp closed the gap to two, senior Nicole Carleveto put the game away when she spiked the ball through two McQueen defenders.

McQueen rebounded in the second game and led by as many as four at 9-5 and later pulled away from a 14-14 tie to go up 17-14, but the Senators would not be denied.

Eckart had a pair of kills and junior outside hitter Breanna Anderson drilled a ball that three Lancers couldn't handle, which gave the Senators an 18-17 lead that they wouldn't relinquish.

Carson almost swept the Lancers after turning an 11-9 deficit into a 24-19 lead, but McQueen refused to go away and ultimately rallied to take the third game.

The Lancers once again led by as many as four points at 9-5, but they failed to shake Carson, which came back from a 14-11 deficit to go on a 9-4 run, capped by an Anderson-Taylor block.

After a hitting error put them behind 22-17, the Lancers went on a 3-0 run before Keller closed the match out with three consecutive kills.

"It was stressful when it got neck and neck," Earwood said. "But we kind of knew their strategy. We learned so much this year working as a team. That helped. Getting to the second round was one of our goals at the beginning of the year.

"They were undefeated (in league) and we came out knowing we were underdogs. Nobody expected us to win. It felt really good. Danae - she did a really good job. (Junior outside hitter) Blaike King and (junior libero) Mavil Diaz - our whole team was just on it tonight. Everybody wanted it."

Wilkins said her young team wasn't lacking for confidence.

"We knew we could beat them," she said. "It was a matter of not getting lazy on points. We had to make them earn their points, because we knew they'd make us earn ours. The whole game we passed really well, played defense and used our middles."

McQueen ended the season with an overall record of 20-3.

Having split their two games with Reno - which finished second in the Sierra League at 12-2, one game behind 13-1 Douglas - the Senators know what stands in the way of them advancing to the finals and earning an automatic berth in next week's state championships.

"They beat us in three the first time and we beat them in five," Wilkins said of the Huskies. "We have to pass a lot. If we can use our middles, that's the main part of our offense. Our problem is they have two lefties on each side. You have to take them out of the game. We were able to do that last time."

It will be an all Sierra League semifinals, with Carson and Reno opening play at noon at Galena High School and Douglas-Damonte Ranch beginning at 2 p.m. The winners will meet at 5 in the regional championship game.


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