American River upsets Irvine Valley, creates first All-North state final

Andreia Keane makes the play during American River's 4-set, upset victory over Irvine Valley in the State Semifinals on Saturday, photo by David Sanborn.
Andreia Keane makes the play during American River's 4-set, upset victory over Irvine Valley in the State Semifinals on Saturday, photo by David Sanborn.

(Fairfield, Calif.) -- Underdog American River College knocked out state No 1-ranked Irvine Valley in four sets, 24-26, 25-21, 25-23, 25-23, and in the process created the first All-North championship final in the 42-year history of the CCCAA Women's Volleyball State Championship tournament Saturday at Solano College.

The Beavers rallied from a set down and then ran the table on the Lasers, the defending state champions who finished the year at 21-2. 

ARC, now 24-7, will face the winner of the other semifinal later tonight between North teams in #1 seed Gavilan and #3 Fresno City. The North had never won a large schools state title prior to the 2013 season. Cabrillo then won state titles in 2013 and 2015, followed by Fresno City capturing the 2016 crown. The three North teams in the semfinals also marks a first in tourney history. 

American River assured itself of its highest finish in state tourney history after tying for third place 25 years ago at the '93 tournament. Irvine Valley finished in a tie for third place at state.

Leading the Beavers run was 5-foot-8 middle blocker Kendall Welpott, who had a perfect day in attacks with 14 kills in 21 attempts (hit .667, the highest by a player in a match since Irvine Valley's Annie Mitchem hit .826 at the 2014 state championships) and aded nine blocks (one solo). Only 13 other players had as many as nine blocks since the championship stats started to be recorded in 1999. 

Another big player was Andreia Keane, who scored 18 kills, hitting .441 while adding 11 digs. Libero Maddie Adams made 27 digs while Savanah Smith set 25 assists, had five kills, 18 digs and six block assists. Allison Linder added seven kills and three blocks off the Beavers bench. 

For Irvine Valley, Alyssa Vortouni swung 13 kills (.313), setter Truth Hafey dished out 40 assists, Lea Kruse had 11 kills and 14 digs, Jacqueline Wolfe scored eight kills and libero Renata Bath totaled 21 digs. Alaina Gendale added nine kills and 13 digs while Jade Parham served three aces. 

"Irvine Valley is a great ball control team and we came in with the idea we had to outlast them," said ARC head coach Carson Lowden. "We wanted to cut down their block. We also felt we needed to go to our middles more for kills. Welpott is what we call an exploding star because she emits so much energy. She is relentless and works so hard to put herself in a position to make a kill. We just kept feeding her and she delivered. Sometimes we let our emotions out, but today I told the players we were our most business-like in following our game plan and being so focused. We let out the emotions after we won it."

Lasers coach Tom Pestolesi said, "American River was better than us today. I don't think we were at our best on first contacts. ARC is more physical than we've faced. Still, I look back at this being late in my coaching career and can say that I wasn't just filling a chair. We had a great run with state titles in 2014 and 2017, and I'm proud of the kids who made us a great program, and my assistant coaching staff who have been a big part of that success."

Just like against El Camino in the quarterfinals, ARC dropped the opening set. But in set 2, the Beavers jumped out to a 20-11 lead and then tied the match. In the third set, ARC led 21-17, then IVC pulled ahead at 23-22 on a kill by Vortouni. Smith set Keane and Linder for kills and an Irvine set error gave American River a 2-1 sets lead. In the final set, the Beavers took a 15-10 lead, but again the Lasers battled back to tie it 23-23. Welpott blasted her 14th kill and a combined stuff block by Smith and Danica Minard went for match point.

Release by Robert Lewis, CCCAA/CCCWVCA