Bishop Manogue suffered just one loss to a Northern Nevada opponent while rolling to the Division I North region title. But the season was not as smooth as it appeared on paper.
The Miners suffered more than their fair share of injuries. Then, there were suspensions and the midseason announcement of a coaching change.
“We had some low points in our season,” Morgan Carlson said.
“It’s been emotional,” added Kololita Atoa, one of 10 seniors on the Manogue roster, “but it’s definitely helped us mentally. I think our team needed those distractions for us to be where we are now. In the long run it was definitely meant for us to have those distractions.”
The Miners are just two wins from their first state championship since 2008. They face defending champion Green Valley at 8 p.m. Friday at Galena High in the Division I semifinals.
With a deep, senior-laden roster and built-in motivation from an abrupt season-ending loss last year, Manogue was considered the North favorite this season. But the campaign could have derailed at multiple junctures.
Things could have gone south when four starters were suspended for two weeks after a team-rule violation in mid-September. They didn’t.
Any of the nearly dozen injuries could have made a noticeable pot hole in the Miners’ run to a 28-6 record. They weren’t.
Coach Jason Sterrett’s announcement last month that he will step down at the end of the season could have distracted the players from their on-court responsibilities. It did not.
“It could have potentially been a big distraction, especially for the girls who are going to be playing again next year,” senior outside hitter Shannon Sullivan said. “But we kind of used it to our advantage and just said let’s have a good year for his last year.
“Mentally, our team had to overcome all the struggles we went through, with the suspensions and people getting hurt a lot. But I think we were strong enough mentally that we didn’t let it affect how we played.”
Atoa said the biggest challenge to overcome was the suspensions. Not only did they leave Manogue without the four starters for seven matches, they came when two other players were out with injury and with the season’s biggest match to that point looming.
Manogue took down Spanish Springs, who had ousted the Miners in the 2011 region, in four games on Sept. 18.
“That was the first major turning point toward us becoming a team,” Atoa said. “We’ve learned the game is a lot more mental than physical. We’ve learned to be a team. At the beginning of the season, there were a lot of individuals, and now, that we’re at the end of the season, I can say this is a team. We’re here for each other and we have each other’s backs.”
The Miners went 7-0 during that stretch and Sterrett learned a lot about his team.
“We had said from the start of the year that we were 12-deep,” he said. “Well, then we went out and proved it during that stretch. Every single player had a role in this season, whether they’re playing now or played a role in the middle of the year.
“I haven’t looked at this as a tumultuous season. Distractions are what you make of them. We turned the ‘distractions’ into positives. It’s been a rewarding year because so many people have had a part in it at some point.”
The Bishop Manogue-Green Valley winner will face the Bishop Gorman-Spanish Springs victor at 4 p.m. Saturday for the title.
“This weekend is all about having fun and going for what we’ve worked for,” Carlson said. “It’s been very difficult but it’s only made us stronger in the end. We all came together through all that.”