High School Sports

Poised Indians sweat out win, earn Upper State title

After two hours of play, Gilbert was two points away from the Class 2A volleyball championship. But, so too, was the visiting Broome squad.

With the match tied at 2 and the two teams knotted at 14 in the fifth and final game, the Gilbert gym was in a frenzy. But through it all, the Indians claimed the Upper State title and a trip to the 2008 state final by keeping their composure.

Or something like that.

“I only did a little bit of jumping up and down,” said Gilbert coach Jackie Shealy, whose team advanced to the state final for the first time since 1997 with the 25-22, 18-25, 25-21, 21-25, 16-14, defeat of Broome. It was the first time the Indians (20-0) had been pushed to five games this season, and the coach figured it would do no good to panic look like she was panicking when her team fell behind 13-9 in the final game.

“I just tried to make sure that they knew I had all the confidence in them,” Shealy said. “They know how they play if they stay focused, if they keep communication going, and I knew they could do that in the end.”

Streaky play by the two evenly-matched teams contributed to the drama of the long match. Through the first four games, Gilbert and Broome (23-4) alternately put up five- and six-point scoring runs.

Broome coach Pam Peeler was certain her team would be in the state final if not for the Centurions inopportune stretch of mistakes in the final game.

“They would have been fine if we had been able to play in that final game the way we played in spurts,” she said.

With Becca Simpson serving, the Centurions scored six consecutive points to build their four-point lead in the fifth game.

Sarah Eargle’s kill broke the serve and gave the Indians some momentum. Two calls against Broome - for having a player out of rotation and carrying - helped Gilbert regain its footing.

Peeler said her team, which also fell short in the 2007 semifinal, felt rushed in the final points of the game. The Indians were feeling their own pressures.

“We knew we had to go harder than ever at that point,” said sophomore Whitney Strother, who lad the Indians with three kills and an ace in the final game. “What was going through my mind, I don’t even know. I knew we had to dig deep because whoever played harder then was going to the final.”

It was all the Indians could do to follow the ball on the final volley, hoping the ball would hit the floor on the other side of the net.

“There was so much pressure on us by that point,” said junior Courtney Frye. “Being undefeated all season, it was all or nothing right there on the line.”

The Indians didn’t lose finally lost their composure until the game was over when they got their wish.

Players screamed and cried as friends and family rushed the court; Shealy somehow broke her clipboard. She was amazed by her team’s capacity to pull together and pull through, but not surprised.

“It’s just something within the groups that’s out there, I’ve got a very scrappy group of girls. And they’re exactly where they said they wanted to be from the beginning of the season,” she said.

The Indians will face defending champion Bishops of Bishop England for the title at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at White Knoll High.

Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419.