Thomas Ranson, Lahontan Valley News
TRUCKEE – No high-scoring games or a five-set thriller this time.
The Fernley volleyball team jumped out in front early in the first game, stuck its foot on the gas and never looked back in routing Fallon in straight sets in Friday night’s Northern 3A regional volleyball quarterfinal at Truckee High School.
“The girls have been working hard. We talked about that we haven’t played our best volleyball the first two times we played them,” Fernley coach Diane Chapin said. “We figured (Fallon) was going to come out hungry because it’s the third time and it’s hard to beat someone three times in a season. We came out ready to play and did well.”
The Vaqueros rode the strength of its front line, strategic serving and scrappy defense to end Fallon’s season – 25-12, 25-15 and 25-13 – after the Greenwave lost to its cross-valley rival in five games in August and then battled in two of the three games in last month’s meeting.
Sophomore Willow Jacobson posted a match-high 14 kills and senior Colby Johnson added six, senior Natalie Stewart dished out 27 assists and had 11 digs, and senior Katelyn Bunyard was all over the floor as she led with 18 digs.
“It was another thing we worked out, exploiting weaknesses,” Chapin said about the serving. “We’ve struggled in the past but we cleaned up a lot of mistakes. You saw Bunyard flying all over the court and she played the game like she’s been playing all year.”
Fernley, the No. 3 seed, faces No. 2 South Tahoe on Saturday at 1:45 p.m. with the winner going to next week’s state tournament at Faith Lutheran High School. No. 1 Truckee and No. 4 Elko battle at noon with the winner also going to state and playing in the regional championship at 4 p.m.
Chapin, who has guided many Fernley softball teams into the state tournament, said her volleyball team will need to extend its approach against Fallon into Saturday’s meeting with the Vikings, whom the Vaqueros battled to four games (26-28, 21-25, 26-24 and 15-25) last week.
“We played them really tough last week. We just came up short,” Chapin said. “We need to clean up on mistakes, do good on serve and keep the serves in, be good on serve receive and make good passes. We can’t give them a chance to run their offense. We have to keep them off-balance.”
Serving helped Fernley gain separation in the first game. Fernley recorded 10 aces total, including two apiece from Jacobson, Stewart and senior Reese Jones, and converted 96 percent of its serves.
Behind Jacobson, the Vaqueros broke a 3-3 tie on Johnson’s first kill of the game and then expanded the lead to 8-3 after Johnson drove the ball down the middle of the floor. Fallon hung around, closing the gap to three (11-8) after junior Aisha Sharron’s ace and a net error kept the deficit at three again (13-10) before Willow’s cross-court kill prompted senior Jaiden Sullivan to string together five-straight service points and break the game open at 19-10. Sullivan’s kill ended the first game.
The Vaqueros jumped ahead early in the second game, leading by eight (14-6) after Johnson’s kill but the Greenwave battled back to close the gap to three. Senior Makenzee Moretto, who led Fallon with 11 assists, lined a kill followed by Jacobson’s hitting error to cut the deficit to 17-14. Two Fallon attack errors along with Fernley senior Celeste Condie’s kill prompted first-year coach Taylor de Braga to call a timeout with her team trailing 20-14.
Fernley, though, scored five of the game’s next six points to win by 10, which transitioned into the Vaqueros scoring 12 of the third game’s first 14 points.
Stewart’s ace kept the lead at double digits and a combination of Fernley attacks and Fallon miscues quickly put the game out of reach for the Greenwave. Jacobson’s two kills late in the game combined with several double-hit and attack and passing errors were too much for Fallon to overcome.