Sunrise Mountain kicks into gear at Liberty

Sunrise Mountain's Chad Stewart hits the ball over the net against Liberty on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 at Liberty High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Sunrise Mountain boys volleyball does not always operate at full speed, but the Mustangs can reach a gear that few of their 5A opponents possess.

Tuesday night, the team stumbled through an error-filled second game before holding off rival Liberty. Then, the visitors put the hammer down.

No. 6 ranked Sunrise Mountain (19-4 overall, 14-2 regular season) completed the sweep 25-15, 25-18, 25-10 of No. 22 Liberty (8-8).

“We’ve really done that all season. We get on those little runs,” Sunrise Mountain coach Tony Gale said. “Then we hit another part of our match and elevate our play. I’m not comfortable with it as a head coach, but I know it’s there. We have another gear that most teams don’t.”

Even a nervous moment turned out well for the Mustangs. Junior James Hansen came down on a teammate’s foot and writhed early in the second game.

He hobbled out on crutches. But later in the night, Hansen was able to walk without a shoe and a wrap on what appeared to be a sprained ankle.

Without one of its starters and a versatile all-around player, Sunrise Mountain scuffled a bit early in that game, as Liberty tied the score at eight.

But the visitors’ firepower was too much, as seniors Chad Stewart and Ben Furlong thrived in the attack with the extra attention paid to senior Jon Igo.

As the match went on, Gale’s team began to communicate better and compensate for the loss of Hansen.

“We have more weapons than I think people realize. We go to John and Chad a lot because they have a good percentage of gaining side outs. But we’ve got some other weapons,” Gale said.

Junior right side Carson Briggs kept Liberty in the contest until the final game.

Junior libero Josh Estrada just was named district defensive player of the year, and is the foundation of the Lions’ style.

“My team, all season, has been defensive. We’re trying to get balls up and over.” Liberty coach Ashley Prodan. “We’re trying to be the smarter team and avoid errors.”

Her teams lacks the experienced club players of Sunrise Mountain and is largely composed of first-year volleyball players who concentrate on other sports.

With that in mind, making the play-in round of the 5A tournament would be an achievement for this group. Tuesday’s loss did not hurt the Lions, who moved from No. 22 to No. 21 in the rankings released Wednesday.

Teams ranked 9-24 will play in the play-in games May 3.

“I think that would mean everything because they have worked so hard. To get in and do so because they played hard, smart and together, I think it would mean the world to them,” Prodan said.

Meanwhile, the Mustangs have bigger goals. An April 11 loss at No. 1 Deer Valley set out a blueprint for the team.

Sunrise Mountain was competitive the whole night but fell short 25-19, 25-23, 25-22.

“We knew we could play with Deer Valley, but they are one of – if not the – best teams,” Gale said. “We made critical errors at critical times. We know if we block a little bit better, we’ll be all right. We’ve been working on our blocking and having other options to keep the other teams off balance.”

Liberty’s Daniel Moore attempts to hit the ball over the net against Sunrise Mountain on Tuesday, April 24 at Liberty High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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