By Roselyn B. Monroyo
Variety News Staff
YESTERDAY’s playoff match between Whispering Palms and Calvary Christian Academy was not for the weak heart.
Whispering Palms survived the CCA Sharks in three tightly contested sets to advance to the semifinals of the CNMI Private School junior varsity volleyball tournament.
Calvary entered the playoff match with a slight advantage as the Sharks finished the regular season in fourth place. The defending champion Whispering Palms placed fifth.
With Caleb Arriola, Ilia Corella, Hunter Thorpe, Amy Arenovski, Crosby Schultz and Min Joo Jung starting for the Navy Hill-based school, the defending champion won the opening set, 25-18.
Whispering Palms’ bench took charge in the second set and had a neck-and-neck battle against the Sharks, who escaped with a 25-13 triumph to force a third set.
The Sharks picked up where it left off in the deciding set, as Whispering Palms failed to return CCA’s serves.
Calvary caught Whispering Palms flatfooted in the first half of the last set and took a commanding 8-0 lead.
Whispering Palms’ coach Mark McDonald sued for time to restore order on the team. The temporary lull brought Whispering Palm back to life as it move within two 6-8.
Hunter Thorpe sparked the comeback when he saved the ball down the left sideline near the Sharks’ bench. Christian Miller, who was part of Whispering Palms’ second unit, but played in the crucial third set, received the ball and returned it to a napping CCA defender, and scored their first point
It was CCA coach Scott Norman’s turn to call a time out and he made the right decision, as the Sharks regained the form and moved a point away from winning the match, 14-8.
The next plays were nerve wracking, especially for Whispering Palms, as one mistake would mean goodbye to their title defense bid.
But Thorpe would not let his team down as he delivered the killer blows that led to perhaps the biggest comeback of the season.
After a CCA wide return, Thorpe’s stepped unto the service area and Calvary and Whispering Palms supporters watched how the fifth grader tore the Sharks apart with his impressive serves.
Actually, Thorpe’s serves were not that explosives, but they have a certain spin and very tricky that made it hard for Calvary to return.
His first served landed in the middle with Calvary’s players on the backcourt a step slower for the ball.
Hunter scored for more aces with the ball either dropping near the net when Calvary players were moving at the backline or at the middle passing the Sharks’ blockers and not reaching the backline defenders.
His last ace with the ball dropping a few inches from the net tied the game at 14-all.
With the momentum shifting to Whispering Palms’ side, Hunter continued to serve well and his game was completed by his teammates willingness to hustle for the ball.
A CCA wide returned moved Whispering Palms within a point of wrapping up the match.
Thorpe served for the match point with the ball heading to the back line. A CCA player hit it, but the ball did not cross the other court, yet and instead another CCA player made the second hit . Still the second hit was not enough to return the ball to Whispering Palms. With the ball heading to the right sideline, a CCA player chased it and hit it, but the ball landed near Calvary’s net capping the Sharks’ end-game collapse and handing Whispering Palms the win.
“It was one of the greatest comeback I’ve ever seen,” said Tom Weindl, who despite the air-conditioned venue (MHS Gym) was perspiring due to the intense action.
Thorpe, who was still gasping for breath with his long stint at the service area, could not believe they won the game.
“All I knew when I was at the service are was I didn’t have to make a mistake. All the serves must be perfect and my teammates will take care of the rest,” Thorpe said.
Whispering Palms’ next assignment is the winner of the SIS Green vs MCS tiff. Saipan International School topped the regular season while Mt. Carmel finished last.
Other pairings are Grace Christian Academy vs SIS Blue and Seventh Day Adventist vs Saipan Community School.
The three other playoff games were also played yesterday at the MHS Gym, but results of these matches were unavailable at press time.