Dayton captures first state championship
RENO – In what turned out to be a fitting climax, Amanda Sbragia served an ace to close out the victory that brought Dayton High School its first state championship on Saturday afternoon.
Sbragia delivered a double-double – 27 kills and 11 digs – to lead the way as Dayton outlasted conference rival Incline 3-1 in the 3A championship match at the NIAA-Las Vegas Review-Journal State Volleyball Championships before an estimated crowd of 800 at Galena High School. The Dust Devils won 26-24, 25-27, 25-15, 25-15.
This was nothing new because the 5-foot-11 senior middle blocker came up big all through a season in which the Dust Devils compiled a 30-4 overall record and ended up with a seven-match win streak. Their last loss came on Oct. 15 at Whittell.
And now, there’s finally a state championship to display in the trophy case of a school that opened in 1982.
“It’s awesome to be holding this,” Dayton coach Sondra McMullen said as she showed the championship trophy to fans. “It’s been a long time coming for our school. We’ve come close a lot of times, but we’ve finally crossed that bridge, and hopefully, we’re going to bring home a lot more.”
Dayton came up short a year ago in Henderson, losing a four-game 3A final against 13-time state champion Moapa Valley. Memories of last year made Saturday’s triumph all the sweeter, according to Sbragia.
“It was motivational for me,” she said. “Last year, it fell out of our hands, and I didn’t want to let that happen again.”
There were certainly some anxious moments early when the Dust Devils and Highlanders split the first two games. The lead changed hands seven times and the score was tied 16 times in those games as Incline threw up a defensive scheme that included three blockers in front of Sbragia.
“This was the fourth time we’d played this year, so we knew what they could do and we knew what she (Sbragia) could do,” said Incline coach Heidi Graeber, whose club lost three of four matches against Dayton this season. “We tried to focus on her. We changed our blocking to try and slow her down, and we did a pretty good job for a while.”
Incline came out on top 27-25 in Game 2 – after both teams had opportunities to serve for the win – as Natalie Hale served back-to-back aces to close it out. Jami Bell had four of her team-high 12 kills and Kristen Elias two of her eight blocks for Incline in the second game.
The Highlanders continued their momentum into Game 3, taking a 5-3 lead, before the Dust Devils came back to life. Sbragia put the ball down on a dink to tie the score, then she took a set from Michelle Bowman and dinked again to give Dayton a 10-9 lead.
It was a matter of finding holes in the Incline defense, Sbragia said.
“I don’t like it when other teams triple team me, but when they do, you have to rely on the holes they leave. And coach was constantly telling me where they were,” she said.
“For a while there, we tried to hit into it,” McMullen said of the defensive openings. “We had to see it and we had to place it, and eventually, we started doing that.”
The closeness of the first two games motivated the Dust Devils.
“Incline stepped it up. They were fierce competitors. They fought hard, but so did we,” Bowman said. “Their intensity got me pumped up. It helped because I thought this was the best game we’ve played.”
Bowman played a large role for the Dust Devils, as she split time during the match as setter and middle blocker and finished with a solid all-around performance that included 21 assists, 11 digs, four kills and three blocks. Bowman put down a solo block in the middle to give Dayton a 22-21 lead in Game 1.
“Michelle only had three blocks, but they were all key blocks,” McMullen said of the 5-foot-7 junior. “It’s always a worry when Amanda is in the back row, and at 5-7, it’s a lot for me to even ask Michelle to play middle blocker, but I thought she played her best match ever.”
Also give credit to freshman Gina Henderson, who had five kills and eight assists, as well as Nicole Greer, who contributed nine digs, while sophomore Sara Simmons and Macy Hamlin had eight digs each. Greer and Hamlin are both seniors.
Simmons went to her knees to come up with a dig that led to Sbragia putting down a block that gave Dayton a 19-13 lead in the final game. Sbragia had two more kills and a block down the stretch before she slammed the door shut with her service ace.
“Amanda has been our leader all along, so it was nice she had a chance to make some plays and be in the spotlight at the end,” McMullen said of Sbragia.
And it was nice to win the championship within a relatively short drive from home in front of a crowd known as the Dayton Nation.
“It was nice to be able to win in the North in front of all our fans. They definitely give us a lot of energy,” McMullen said.
“Our fans are so great and supportive,” Sbragia said. “You could feel the emotion within the room. It was like the roof was going to bust off.
And, of course, the state championship is great.
“All the suicides we did in practice, it’s all worth it now,” Sbragia said. “I just didn’t realize it until now.”
Contact Dave Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-1220.