Comeback leads to ecstatic night in Estrella


GOODYEAR - Everything  was in place  for the biggest Estrella Foothills girls volleyball win ever. And everything was falling apart.

Seventh-seeded Chandler Seton Catholic Prep dominated the second and third sets of the 4A quarterfinal and looked ready to end the #2 Wolves' dream season.

After that third set, coach Jennifer Gonzalez asked her team to put it all in the middle. And from there Estrella Foothills' middles took over the match.

"It definitely happened in the fourth set. Once we got ou middles more involved our defense came along with it," senior middle blocker Makayla Hurles said.

Senior  Aniya Mitchell  had five blocks  and five kills in the final two sets while Hurles hit seven kills and made four blocks.

The middles led the Wolves to their first semifinal berth, as Estrella Foothills pulled off the 25-21, 15-25, 16-25, 25-21, 15-11 victory.

"We try to run our middles as much as we can to get the defense going faster. Me and Makayla, it's really iumportant to help run the offense," Mitchell said.

Estrella Foothills (30-3) will host #3 seed Flagstaff  (29-9) in the semifinal at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Flagstaff was responsible for the Wolves three losses during an early season tournament.

Talk of a rematch seemed distant in the middle of Thursday's match.  Estrella Foothills beat Seton (22-5) 3-1 in a home match Sept. 12.

A far different Sentinels team took the court in the playoffs, led by the attach of juniors Catherine Schwab  and Christina Kuras and the serve of sophomores  Alexandra Van Devender and Gracie Shearan.

Schwab in particular turned the match into a personal showcase.  She hit 13 kills in that second and third set.

"Seton Catholic improved at everything from when we played them earlier," senior libero Nadia Trinidad said. "We got our groove back in the fourth set and started nailing out passes."

The home team looked for the previously-quiet Mitchell and she gave the crowd and her teammates a boost. Her two blocks guided the Wolves to a 6-2 fourth-set lead and her second kill of that set  pushed the lead to 19-15.

With her and Hurles humming, the rest of the defense picked up.  Mitchell ended the set with another block.

"We talked about our defensive coverage but really we had to put our emotions to the side and focus on the game," senior libero Allison Potter said.

With the crowd jumping and momentum firmly on its side, Estrella Foothills raced to a 5-1 lead in the decisive fifth set. 

"All the support from our stands made us motivated and more focused," Mitchell said. "You could feel the energy on the bench too."

Sophomore outside hitter Alice Mancilla chipped into the attack and her second tip restored a 9-6 Wolves lead.

Seton stormed back as sophomore Rachel Hernandez served aces on either side of an Estrella Foothills time out for a 10-9 Sentinels lead.

"Coach told us don't worry, you're going to nail this pass and we'll run middle. And right after she said it, it happened. And Vanessa came in clutch with those serves," Trinidad said.

Hurles' attack tied it and junior Vanessa Sanchez added an ace. A Seton hand into the net and another Mancilla tip made it 13-10.

Hurles blocked an attack for 14-10  and after a Seton point had the match in her hands. She hit an upward attack over the block that just barely landed inside the back line for the victory.

"I was early on that hit. 100 percent. I thought , 'Please just get it in.' Once that line judge pointed I almost went through the roof," Hurles said. "I just broke down from the excitement. It's a community event. We have parents that support us that don't even have kids here."