West Valley Preps
Those who did not study the stats of Northwest Christian’s volleyball team before Monday night’s match against Buckeye Odyssey Institute would never have noticed.
The Crusaders were without their best all-around player. senior Kendall Nagai is on a mission trip.
Yet the team expanded the roles of two attackers and kept rolling, clobbering the Minotaurs 25-13, 25-10, 25-11. Odyssey, the second best team in the 3A West region, is now 17-9 overall and 4-1 in the league.
“It’s really nice. In every rotation, I have three offensive weapons. That’s pretty amazing to have. I feel comfortable with any of my hitters. A setter can read her options and know whomever she sets has the ability to kill the ball,” Northwest Christian Coach Jenna Hope said.
Northwest Christian in 25-2 overall and 6-0 in region. Both losses were in the Goldwater Tournament to almost certain 6A playoff teams in Boulder Creek and Goodyear Millennium.
With Nagai out of town, junior Maddie Osborne and freshman Molly Kipp were featured more. Osborne drilled four kills in the final eight Crusaders points of game one.
“Our team has really matured from last year. We were kind of a young team so together we’ve all matured through the last two years,” senior defensive specialist Kelsey Groff said.
Then in game two, the home team’s attack shifted, running through freshman outside hitter Reagan Hope (five kills), senior middle blocker Gracie Fenn (four kills) and junior middle hitter Logan Maszton (three kills).
Showcasing another facet of their game to get the sweep, the Crusaders picked up three straight aces from senior outside hitter Elizabeth Cook.
“It was our motivation this year for sure. We came in super hungry to win. That’s all that has been on our minds.” senior libero Makenna McClure said.
Northwest Christian was the No. 1 seed in 3A last fall and reached the finals before losing to Fountain Hills. All but one rotation player came back this year, making the Crusaders the early favorite.
Then the rich got richer. Hope is the team’s top attacker, averaging more than three kills per match. Kipp rotates in as a reliable opposite hitter. And a third freshman, Emma Harmeyer, provides steady relief to senior setter McKenna Roth.
“Those girls have known Reagan since she was in fifth grade, and kind of took her under their wing. They’re excited that she’s grown up to play with them. Anything she does well, they’re excited for her. It can always be tough because it’s your daughter and you want to make sure she’s playing because she’s earned it,” Jenna Hope said. “Molly was excellent. I have three freshmen that play. They’ve played together at a high level. It’s almost not like putting a freshman on the court.”
That added firepower and depth gives this team even more of an edge. But it tougher to be sure in 3A due to the geography of the conference.
The Crusaders played and beat three 3A contenders in Fountain Hills, Chandler Valley Christian and Snowflake — though the Lobos took the first set off the Crusaders before falling in three at Goldwater. Since tournament matches do not count in the AIA rankings — like the Crusaders’ impressive victories against Cactus, Gilbert Campo Verde, Deer Valley, Greenway and Sunrise Mountain — Snowflake actually entered the week ranked No. 1.
And Northwest Christian will not see the four teams ranked just below it — Lakeside Blue Ridge, Kayenta Monument Valley, Safford and Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian — until the state tournament.
“I think Pusch Ridge is really strong in Tucson and there’s Monument Valley. It’s like we’ll have a really quick scouting report, trying to get in there and watch their players,” Hope said. “It’s interesting to get new teams that we know nothing about and figure out how we adjust for them.”