Debut of a dynasty? Northwest Christian sweeps through 3A bracket with 1 senior

Northwest Christian volleyball holds up its 3A volleyball state title banner Nov. 3 at Tempe High School. [Courtesy Jenna Hope/For West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Get used to the sight, 3A volleyball. This is the first of three years it repeats on a loop.

Get used to a dig by Jayden Shaw, leading to a set by Molly Kipp for Reagan Hope or McKenzie Wise – two outside hitters that committed to Division I colleges as high school freshmen.

All four of these girls are sophomores at Northwest Christian.

They’re part of a team that did not drop a set in four matches en route to the 3A volleyball state title. And the Crusaders did it with one senior on the roster.

“We had some good games in San Diego at that tournament, but I think this tournament is the first time every single one of us played 100 percent,” Reagan Hope said. “If we beat (Fountain Hills) like that, we can beat anybody like that. We were here to sweep every team.”

Inexplicably seeded No. 3, Northwest Christian (36-6) completed its demolition of the competition with a 25-11, 25-18, 25-12 sweep of No. 5 Chandler Arizona College Prep (22-7).

The 18 Knights points in set two matched Fountain Hills (in the quarterfinals) for the most points recorded against the Crusaders in the two-day tournament.

“I would say it really motivated them to show that we’re not third seed. They really wanted to prove that, but to be honest, they’re competitors and they’re going to fight no matter what,” Northwest Christian coach Jenna Hope said.

Wise transferred in from Sunrise Mountain after earning some all-state notices as a freshman for the Mustangs.

Sitting out the first half of the regular season per AIA rules, Wise said she felt comfortable with her new teammates almost immediately.

“She’s very consistent, very dynamic and she jumps through the roof so that helps,” coach Hope said. “In practices, we would practice our rotations with her and with her not in there. When she came in, she just had to get used to swings because she broke her finger two weeks before she could play.”

She debuted Sept. 25 against region rival Wickenburg.

About 10 days later, the Crusaders began to realize their potential during an elite San Diego-area tournament. Northwest Christian went 6-2, beating top 20 California teams (according to MaxPreps in Carlsbad La Costa Canyon and Sun Valley Village Christian..

“McKenzie is one of the best outside (hitters) in the country. She’s amazing and everybody knows it. Having her here where everyone respects her and sees how great she is, is great. I’ve played with her since I was 12 and it’s great watching her swing away,” Reagan Hope said.

The same can be said for Hope, who, like Wise, committed to a college as a freshman. Hope plans to go to Oregon while Wise chose Grand Canyon.

Hope finished with 513 kills this season in 102 sets, with a sky-high kill percentage of 50 for someone with that many attempts.

“She’s one of my best friends and so fun to play with. She gets a kill, we all scream. I get a kill, we all scream. We encourage each other. That’s awesome,” Wise said.

Hope was the hammer in the Crusaders’  first two 3A playoff wins. She notched 21 kills in a 25-11, 25-11, 25-11 rout of No. 14 Show Low Nov. 2.

Then she powered home 22 kills later that night in a 25-12, 25-12, 25-18 demolition of No. 6 Fountain Hills.

In many ways, that win set Northwest Christian free. Fountain Hills swept the Crusaders in the 2016 3A final, ending Jenna Hope’s first year as coach.

The Falcons then stunned the top-seeded Crusaders in five sets in the 2017 semifinals. That loss drove six returning players this season, including the coach’s daughter.

“(Reagan) hates losing. Not in a bad way. She just has a passion to win. To see the joy on her face and see her getting closer to these girls, there’s nothing that compares to that,” coach Hope said.

Wise was the power source on the second day, with the Crusaders were free of any doubt. No. 2 Tuba City had the second most impressive regular season in 3A, behind the Crusaders.

But the Warriors were never in the Nov. 3 semifinal at Camelback High School, falling 25-14, 25-15, 25-13. Wise drilled 23 kills.

Arizona College Prep hit its high water mark in knocking off No. 1 seed Snowflake in the other semifinal. The Crusaders, however, overwhelmed the Knights from the start by jumping out to an 8-0 lead.

ACP was more competitive in the second set before Northwest Christian pulled away. In the third set the Crusaders built a 10-0 lead on three aces by sophomore setter Molly Kipp – and six kills by Wise, who finished the match with 23 kills.

“Right away I felt like I was at home because I knew most of the girls – they’re very sweet girls. It was a little rough sitting out but I enjoyed watching them play and getting to know them more,” Wise said. “I’m so excited to see what we can accomplish. I’m really proud of my team and I’m really glad I switched schools too.”

Even with this dynamic of a duo, a team cannot win a title with just two elite outside hitters. Kipp, a club teammate of Hope and Wise at Arizona Storm and a Baylor commit, had 32 assists.

Shaw and fellow sophomore Emma Harmeyer set her up with their back row defense. Middle blockers Logan Maszton and Ashlyn Nevrla – as well as junior right side Zoe Dalessandri – did not record many blocks but managed to slow the knights attack.

“Without the passing of Jayden Shaw or Emma Harmeyer, who both played phenomenal defense, we couldn’t do what we do. If we didn’t have the serving of Molly and her setting, which was phenomenal, if we didn’t have the blocks of our middles … we had to have every single person,” coach Hope said.

Dalessandri and Maszton carried the most baggage into this tournament, having played in the last two teams that just fell short.

Maszton, in particular, was on the minds of the coach and players since she is the Crusaders’ lone senior.

“She’s very motivational in her words. She says what exactly what she needs to say to the girls. To see her work so hard as a leader and win it as a senior was great,” coach Hope said.

This was the perfect ending to Maszton’s competitive volleyball career. She will play soccer at Ottawa University Arizona in Surprise nex year.

“It was really special – something I’ll never forget,” Maszton said.

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