For West Valley Preps
The Skyhawks put on a display against two-time defending state champion Tucson Salpointe Catholic in Thursday’s 4A quarterfinal that should not be forgotten and it sets the tone for next year.
Deer Valley (26-15) graduates four seniors but the bulk of the team returns with three juniors, six sophomores and three freshman returning. Also, the younger players dominate the time in the rotation.
“It’s a special team, they never give up and they always fight,” said longtime Skyhawks head coach Jackie Wallace. “They have a lot of heart, it’s just sad to end it like this but next year will be exciting. We are super young right now. This is a special group.”
Wallace led the Skyhawks to a runner-up finish in 2008 and she guided her program to a quarterfinal finish last year at the 5A level. As mentioned before, you have to like the team Wallace will put on the floor next year.
The Lancers brought home the 2016 and 2017 4A state championships to Southern Arizona but Deer Valley proved to be the toughest opponent the Lancers have faced in the postseason, right up there with another Northwest Valley school – Sunrise Mountain in that epic five-set victory in the 2017 championship.
The Skyhawks got out to a quick start in the first set and the team flew to a 7-1 lead, taking advantage of a couple of uncharacteristic net violations and an early service error. Junior middle Maddie Clark served up an ace and the Skyhawks were in complete control and the team went on to build a 14-6 lead.
Stunned, the Lancers responded with a 10-2 run to tie things up at 16-16 but a service error and an ace from the other junior middle, Savannah Davis, turned the Lancers back. Freshman Elizabeth Rupp put the Skyhawks up 21-18 and it looked like the Lancers were about to fade once more.
But a service error and a block from sophomore hitter Andrea Owens brought Salpointe back. A call at the net negated another kill from Owens and the Lancers were unable to recover.
Deer Valley went on to take the first set 25-22 and then jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second set. This time, however, the Lancers stopped the bleeding before it got out of hand and sophomore setter Brandy Kishbaugh and junior setter Katherine Schepelmann hit their marks, distributing the ball evenly between Owens, senior outside Alex Parkhurst and junior middle Abby Russell.
The Lancers led 21-19 but that lead evaporated with a kill from sophomore Avrey Dunn and a Lancer violation. Tied 21-21, Kishbaugh found Owens and then Russell on a quick set. Owens followed that up with a block to put Salpointe up 24-21.
In a foreshadow of what was to come later in the match, the Lancers lost the set point on a service error and then sophomore Carsyn Schuch pulled the Skyhawks to within 24-23 but Kishbaugh went to Russell once more for the 25-23 win.
The third set proved to be another epic battle with both teams playing to a 21-21 tie once again. A violation by the Skyhawks put the Lancers up 22-21 but another service error tied the set back up and sophomore Bailey Fuches aced her serve to put Deer Valley up 23-22.
A service error tied the set up again and then Schepelmann found Parkhurst to give the Lancers their first set point at 24-23. Deer Valley forced a 24-24 tie but Salpointe went up 25-24 for another set point, only to give it back on another service error.
Schepelmann hit Owens to put the Lancers up 26-25 but Rupp put down a kill to tie it back up 26-26. Schepelmann went with Parkhurst to give the Lancers another set point at 27-26 but freshman setter Emee Fellens connected with sophomore hitter Maleah Reynolds, senior Daiya Jovel delivered on an ace and then Fellens hit Fuches for the 29-27 clincher.
The two-time defending champions found themselves down 2-1 against a tough opponent and the Lancers had to regroup and figure out how to overcome a team that was making minimal mistakes while taking advantage of their own unforced errors. Service returns, uneven passing and the inability to put away their own serves was proving costly.
“As you know, we won state two times in a row and it’s really hard for us to live up to that standard,” Russell explained. “This game was really important. It was our last home game. It was a tough team, probably one of the toughest teams we’ve played. Being able to overcome each point and come together to find new ways to win will benefit us for sure later in state.”
The Lancers seemed to find themselves once again and sprinted out to a commanding 16-8 lead in the fourth set but Deer Valley was not going to go away that easily. The Skyhawks went on a 12-6 run to cut the lead down to 22-20 and it looked like they were going to take control.
But a kill from Parkhurst and a miss gave the Lancers another set point, only to have that point squandered due to another service error, but senior Claire Dunn put down a block and the Lancers held on for the 25-21 win to tie the match up 2-2.
The Lancers did find new ways to win but they also went back to what got them here and the result was an 8-1 lead in the deciding set. The lead was good enough to hold off the Skyhawks and Salpointe took it 15-9 for the 3-2 win.
“I think it’s really important for us to find a new part of our game which I think was our shots,” Russell added. “I think we’re a lot smarter and I think that will help us a lot.”