Carey's Athanasia Versis (4) celebrates a point against Hansen during the Sawtooth Conference Tournament Wednesday night, Oct. 17, 2018, at Shoshone High School.

All volleyball season, up until one night in mid-October, I had only seen one match go to five sets. A few went to four before that, but the majority of these contests were rather lopsided.

Entering the Sawtooth Conference championship game between Carey and Hansen, Carey had been dominant all year, while Hansen had been quite good. But, there still seemed to be a gap between the two teams entering the title tilt. Almost instantly, though, it appeared the gap favored Hansen, instead.

After the contest, Carey head coach Kathy Whitworth said the Panthers had a tendency to start slow, but it’s hard to imagine many envisioned what happened against Hansen.

After two sets, the Huskies led, 2-0.

The first set had a bit of back-and-forth, but Hansen pulled away for a 25-19 finish. A 9-0 run made set two an easy win for Hansen, as the Huskies took it, 25-14. The Panthers had no answer for Hansen senior Yolanda Alaniz, who garnered numerous points for her team, both up front at the net and from her serves in the back.

Carey, which had only lost three matches all season, and seemed a lock for the conference title and a state tournament berth, was teetering on the brink of falling short.

Carey stormed right back, led by senior Shantell Chavez, who finished with 27 kills and 23 digs in the contest. The Panthers took set three, 25-18, then set four, 25-16. It was all going to come down to a decisive fifth set.

When Hansen led, 2-0, the match was on the edge of getting away from Carey, but its players knew the Panthers would have the time to make up the deficit. When Hansen took a 14-11 lead in the fifth set and sat on match-point, there was even more of an impetus on the Panthers to make up ground quickly.

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The Panthers went on a 4-0 run, setting up their own match point before Hansen tied it at 15-15. A Hansen attack went long, putting the Panthers at match point again. Chavez went back to serve and smashed a line-drive into the top of the net. As time seemed to stand still, the pace behind the ball pushed it over the net and onto the floor in front of the feet of the helpless Hansen players.

The celebrations on one side — Panthers players jumping for joy as their fans who had made the trip to Shoshone went crazy in the stands — offered a stark contrast to the image of Hansen players lying on the floor, having given their all, being on the brink of victory and falling just short. The Huskies’ season wasn’t over, but they’d have to beat Lighthouse Christian the next night to book a spot in the postseason.

Meanwhile, Carey was headed to its first state volleyball tournament since 2009, after an incredible comeback performance.

“They wanted it really badly,” Whitworth said.

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