Bears fall amid plethora of local story lines

By Bill Althaus
William Chrisman libero Patience Farmer (18) celebrates a point with teammate Courtney Taylor, front, in their Class 4 District 15 semifinal match against Winnetonka. The Bears claimed a win in the third set but fell 3-1 to the host Griffins to end their season.

The Winnetonka High School gym was nearly empty following the host Griffins’ dramatic 3-1 district victory over William Chrisman.

But two longtime friends were standing side by side near the scorer’s table, talking about Thursday’s 6 p.m. championship game between Winnetonka coach Mike Espinosa’s Griffins and St. Pius X coach Krista Daniels’ Warriors.

“When you think about all the story lines from this tournament it’s pretty amazing,” Espinosa said as Daniels nodded in agreement after his team outlasted the Bears 25-15, 25-8, 21-25, 25-23 in the Class 4 District 15 semifinal. “I wonder if there has ever been a tournament with this many coaching connections?”

In the first semifinal match, Daniels’ Warriors swept coach Jackie Becker’s Van Horn team 3-0 in convincing fashion.

“Jackie played volleyball at Chrisman, and now she coaches at Van Horn,” Espinosa said as he began piecing together the Eastern Jackson County connections. “We played Mary Lile’s Chrisman team, and Mary played at Van Horn while I was coaching at St. Mary’s. Now, Mary coaches at Chrisman – just the opposite of Jackie.

“And I coached Krista at St. Mary’s and she later became the St. Mary’s head volleyball and girls basketball coach. She was a two-time all-state player and when St. Mary’s closed down (in 2013), she was offered the St. Pius job, and she’s done a great job at St. Pius.

William Chrisman's Makayla Wrigley (4) and J'Lea Barry (10) block a spike by Winnetonka's Dorianna Braxton (11) in their Class 4 District 15 semifinal Tuesday at Winnetonka. The Bears fell 3-1 to end their season.

“So here at Winnetonka we have a former St. Mary’s coach who is coaching against one of his best players in the district championship, and you had a former Chrisman player coaching Van Horn and a former Van Horn player coaching at Chrisman.”

And that history lesson only added to the drama of his Griffins’ victory over a never-say-die Bears squad that needed two sets before it got its act together.

“I’m so disappointed in the way we played in those first two sets,” Lile said, after her team wrapped up an 8-11 season. “We just didn’t play well. And we were missing some of our key players, but that is no excuse for how we played.”

Throughout the first two sets, the Bears’ defense was porous and Espinosa took advantage of that for two quick wins.

William Chrisman's Mele Tuala, left, knocks a spike past the block attempt by Winnetonka's Dorianna Braxton (11) in Tuesday's Class 4 District 15 semifinal. The Bears went on to losr 3-1.

“We really played well in the first two sets – I was thrilled with our serving – and then Mary’s kids came back strong in the third and fourth sets,” Espinosa said. “They made us work hard in the fourth set to get the win.”

Now, he has a day to prepare his 11-14-2 Griffins for Daniels’ 11-6 Warriors.

“I know how hard Krista worked as a player for me and I know how hard she works as a coach,” Espinosa said. “There’s nobody I’d rather face in the championship Thursday night.

“I told her it would be the only night this year I wasn’t supporting her and her team to win.”

William Chrisman's Courtney Taylor, left, and Jessie Taylor attempt to block a Winnetonka spike in their Class 4 District 15 semifinal Tuesday at Winnetonka. The Bears lost 3-1 to end their season.