Sunrise Mountain boys volleyball survives Kellis in 5

Kellis senior Chase Whitehead, right, attempts to hit the ball over the net against Sunrise Mountain on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Two Peoria district programs that arrived on the boys volleyball scene in recent years continues to measure their progress against one another Tuesday night.

Sunrise Mountain, a 5A semifinalist last year, barely squeaked by Kellis, a 2018 5A quarterfinalist.

Mustangs senior James Hansen served an ace that the Cougars could not handle to finish the 22-25, 25-22, 19-25, 25-14, 16-14 win.

“I think that this is definitely a turning point in our season, or will be,” Hansen said.

For the first half of the match, it looked like the Cougars front line of senior outside hitter DeAndre Wade, senior middle blocker Tyler Freed and senior setter Chase Whitehead would be too much to handle.

Wade finished off the first set with kills on three of the final four Kellis points. The 6-6 dynamo added 14 kills in the next two sets, including two from the back row that tipped the third set to the visitors.

“They’re good and well coached, with a lot of club guys that know how to play the game of volleyball. We have to capitalize on matchups. They’re not going to stop DeAndre, there’s not anyone that is going to stop him. But we’ve got to serve-receive a whole lot better,” Thistle said. “We didn’t pass very well today or serve very well. We had 30-plus unforced errors and you’re not usually going to win with that many.”

With no obvious finisher like Wade after heavy graduation losses, the Mustangs are improvising. Coach Tony Gale said Hansen is more of a finisher for the squad this year, despite his more all-court skillset.

After graduation losses wiped out most of Sunrise Mountain’s attack, sophomore middle hitter Radu Iosifescu stepped into the breach. Tuesday night, Iosifescu handled the load in the second set, building the Mustangs’ lead with four kills.

In a dominant fourth set, Sunrise Mountain finally got a bead on Wade’s attacks, picking up three blocks.

Another sophomore, Kolton Craumer, added three straight service aces in that set. And Gale credited his two sophomores, Iosifescu and Blake Bergstrom, with making adjustments to slow Wade down a bit.

“You can’t prep for it. No one we have hits that hard. It’s encouraging that we’re relying on both middles, who are sophomores,” Gale said.

The decisive fifth set swung toward Kellis, who build a 10-7 lead after a pair of Freed blocks. But Sunrise Mountain quickly reeled off four points to retake the lead.

Wade and Hansen each tallied a pair of kills to knot it at 14. Iosifescu stepped in with a middle attack, followed by Hansen’s ace to seal the win.

The measuring stick game for both teams made this night tough to take for the Cougars, in spite of how far this group has elevated the program.

“I think people used to look at us on the schedule and say, ‘That’s a win.’ The boys, Tyler, Chase – who played his tail off – and DeAndre have started since freshman year. I think they have changed the mentality of this program,” Thistle said. “That’s where this becomes disappointing because the seniors wanted it so bad.”

Half the season remains so this game’s effect on 5A power points was dramatic but not lasting.

Kellis (7-5 overall, 4-2 regular season) fell from the #6 ranking Tuesday to #18 Wednesday. Sunrise Mountain (12-8, 4-2) jumped from #26 to #19.

This week is probably the biggest of the Mustangs’ season, even though it has no Northwest Region foes. Wednesday night Sunrise Mountain travels to another 2018 5A semifinalist, #16 ranked Deer Valley.

“This is two of the better teams we face back to back. And the timing is nice, coming off spring break to get a big win like that.,” Gale said. “Any opportunity we get in moments like that is good because we’re so young. And for me it helps realize what combinations work. We’re still adjusting lineups.”

Kellis’ Zack Muller bumps the ball against Sunrise Mountain on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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