"Anytime you get a sweep in the playoffs, it's nice for your team," Spanish Springs coach Frank Sandomenico said. "I thought we started a little slow. We were waiting for the game to come to us instead of being the aggressor ... As we got going, I thought our defense got a lot better. After the first 11 points or so in Game 1, I thought we played some of the best defense we've played all year."
Spanish Springs (23-7) never trailed in the second game after 7-6 and did not trail at all in the third game as Carson (12-15) struggled to capture any momentum. The host Cougars now advance to a regional semifinal against Reno, a winner in three games over Galena in another regional quarterfinal Tuesday. Spanish Springs and Reno, which split two regular season league meetings, meet Thursday at 5:15 p.m. at Reno High School, the host site for the remainder of the tournament.
"In the last couple of years, we've had six postseason wins. All we wanted tonight was to get No. 7," Sandomenico said. "Now we want No. 8. That's all we're focused on. Our first goal was to win a league title. We did that. Now we want to win on Thursday night.
"This is a fun time of year. It's almost like we're a little spoiled. We expect to win. That's good too, but we need to remember this is special."
The first game was knotted at 12-12, but Spanish Springs ripped off the next four points, a spurt capped by a Brandi Brucato ace, and it did not relinquish its lead. The Cougars extended their edge to 20-14, but Carson scored four of the next five points to pull within three, 21-18. Juliana Anderson served up an ace on the final point of the mini run for Carson.
That's as good as it got for the guests. Spanish Springs got two aces from Kate Castro and scored four straight points to finish off the first game by the 25-18 score.
"They've got a great middle and they're a solid team," third-year Carson coach Robert Maw said. "They're coached well. Good luck to them the rest of the way."
The two teams traded points early in Game 2. Carson did have the 7-6 lead but it was the Senators' last lead of the night. The Cougars proceeded to put together a 6-1 run, capped by another Brucato ace, forging ahead 12-8.
Spanish Springs kept building on its lead. A Tayler Lodge kill left the Cougars on top 16-10. A few minutes later, Carson could not get the ball over the net and Spanish Springs pushed its lead to a game-high nine points, 22-13.
Carson's Jaycie Roberts hit a ball wide on the final point as Spanish Springs grabbed the 25-17 Game 2 triumph.
Like the first two games, Game 3 was close initially. The playoff foes were deadlocked at 7-7 before Spanish Springs again grabbed the momentum and ran away.
The Cougars strung together five-straight points to lead 12-7. After Carson made it 12-9, Spanish Springs responded with a 7-1 outburst to go ahead 19-10. The Senators showed brief signs of life. They answered with four straight points of their own, trimming the SSHS lead to 19-15.
Carson could get no closer. Spanish Springs finished the game on a 6-1 run. Castro put away a ball for a kill on match point and the Sparks school grabbed the Game 3 win 25-16.
"I think our team really stepped up and played to the occasion," Cougars senior middle blocker Gabby Szachara said. "We just talked about playing together, having high energy and handling the things we can -- pass, set, kill.
"It's going to get harder as we go on. We'll be playing better teams. It's sad that the year is almost over. But this is the fun part and it's exciting to see how far we can take it."
Not surprisingly, Spanish Springs dominated the stat sheet. The Cougars served up 13 aces in the sweep. Brucato turned in five of those and got up eight digs. Castro chipped in five more aces and put down six kills. Hannah Meadows gave away 15 assists while chipping in six digs and a pair of aces. Szachara finished with a match-high eight kills and put down a trio of blocks.
"It was just three games and we had four girls with more than four kills," Sandomenico said. "When we had opportunities to put balls away, we did. The nice thing was we've been talking about mixing it up offensively and the kids responded with that."