West Valley Preps
Other schools can just plug in the new studs and play top-notch volleyball every year.
Dysart High School had to build a competitive team for the ground up. Demons coach Rich Ebersole arrived in 2015 – as the JV coach – and noticed a raw, but talented, group of freshmen arriving with him.
Thursday night was the culmination of that painstaking building process as seven members of the Dysart Class of 2019 led the program to its first playoff win in recent memory.
Technically, No. 16 seed Dysart defeated No. 17 Phoenix Shadow Mountain 26-24, 25-15, 23-25, 23-25, 15-9 in a 4A volleyball play-in match and will play in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday. Try telling that to one of the varsity players or the students that screamed with joy after the final point.
“It took a lot of teamwork and it was really complicated to get to this point. But we had to get through it to be a team,” senior middle blocker Selena Resendiz said.
Fittingly, Dysart (23-11) senior outside hitter Tionna Hood finished the landmark win by serving three consecutive aces. She led the Demons with 13 kills and eight aces.
“I just got my jump serve down two matches ago,” Hood said. “I just had to focus on the ball really. The last match, I wasn’t doing good with my serve.”
And Hood was the only current senior to seize a key varsity role as a freshman in 2015, enduring a 6-16 season.
Ebersole took over varsity coaching duties in 2016, leading the Demons to a region title and quick playoff bid despite a 16-20 record.
“A lot of them played together s freshman,” Ebersoe said. “When I came in, there wasn’t a really good culture of winning here. That first year, we were lucky enough to make the playoffs and that set up those expectations.”
Club volleyball players largely avoided the El Mirage campus. But in recent years, this group of players enjoyed the sport enough to seek out the local clubs.
“A lot of my players decided to get out there and try club volleyball. It kind of snowballs from there. We’ve got a culture of players getting out there in the offseson and playing club volleyball. Now, a lot of them play year-round.” Ebersole said.
It led to the Demons’ first winning record in more than a decade and a crucial Black Canyon Region title. Without an automatic berth, Dysart would have been the first team out of the 5A bracket, ranked No. 25.
Instead the region banner dictated a No. 16 seed and a home game in the play-in round. Shadow Mountain presented an opponent with a similar level of experience and skill, and a program also on an upward curve after years of its own struggles.
It showed in a first set where both teams appeared to have stage fright. The first nine points of the match were decided by errors. Shadow Mountain senior Janae Bibby recorded the first kill of the night to tie the match at 5.
The Matadors picked up a set point at 24-23, but Dysart battled back and won on a Resendiz stuff block.
“They were just as good as us. But we had to push through,” Resendiz said. “They were pretty good.”
The home team carried the momentum into a dominant second set. Hood led the way with three aces, three kills and a block, while junior middle blocker Katelin Arrellin added three kills.
“We found all season that when we jump out in set one, it sets us up for the rest of the match, regardless of how long it goes. It gave us that confidence that is crucial, especially when you’re talking about a playoff game,” Ebersole said.
Arrellin’s kill built Dysart’s third set lead to 16-10, but Shadow Mountain began to play like a team with its season on the line. Led by a scrambling defense and four kills and a block by junior Talor Huscher, the Matadors fought back for a 25-23 set win.
Set four had the same final score after an early scare for the Demons. As two Dysart players dove for the ball, a teammate’s elbow inadvertently crashed into Hood’s face. After being down from more than a minute, she was able to leave the court.
Then she checked back into the match without missing a point.
“The girls really follow her lead and her aggressiveness,” Ebersole said
.Dysart reeled off five straight points after Hood’s return to lead 8-3. Again, though, the Matadors stormed back tying the set at 10 and again at 14 after a disputed call.
Huscher closed the set with two kills and a block. Suddenly, Dysart was staring at a collapse.
“We took deep breaths and told them just to take it point by point said,” Hood said.
Before the fifth set, there was a five-minute delay while the referees decided whether to remove the line judges provided by Dysart.
This is the first year of 4A play-in games and Ebersole said he did not know until Wednesday that the home teams were responsible
“I had two inactive varsity players line judging and I think it was just a force of habit, I called a time out and they ran into the huddle. The refs were a little hesitant about having them return as line judges,” Ebersole said. “I offered to switch JV players into those roles. But the Referee 1’s final ruling was that they had done a good job so far and they stayed. I can see why their coach questioned that, she have every right to.”
Once that was cleared up, Dysart jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the fifth set. Once again Shadow Mountain quickly closed the gap, tying it at 5.
Arrellin and Huscher traded kills but Hood gave Dysart some breathing room with a tip and a block. The Matadors tied it at 8 but committed several hitting errors and had no answer for Hood’s serve.
“Tonight was fantastic. It was a huge help to have such a big crowd out. This might have been the largest crowd these girls ever played in front of. They stuck wit it even after dropping those two sets,” Ebersole said. “Watching these girls not give up is really a testament to their hard work.”
While Hood, Resendiz and Arrellin were reliable in the attack, two Demons were crucial in setting them up.
Senior libero Veronica Lopez transferred from Shadow Ridge two years ago and has been crucial to Dysart’s defensive alignment. Senior setter Mary David runs the offense.
“(Lopez) kind of came from a winning culture so she knew what was expected. She is a great leader in the back row and helps everybody keep calm, especially in serve receive,” Ebersole said. “Mary (David), our setter, does a great job of running the offense. She’s been playing club ball with Selena since they came here as freshmen, so the two of them are really synched up.”