West Valley Preps
Deer Valley’s young volleyball team was long on talent and short on consistency in the first half of this season.
In the last month, however, the Skyhawks began to jell as sophomore outside hitter Maleah Reynolds and freshman middle blocker Elizabeth Rupp returned to health.
Reynolds, in particular, gives the attack previously run through middle blocker Savannah Davis and setter Bailey Fuches a charge on the wings.
During Tuesday night’s 4A first round volleyball playoffs match against No. 11 Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain, Reynolds lead No. 6 Deer Valley with 11 kills in the Skyhawks’ 25-20, 25-19, 25-20 win.
“Honestly I felt like we really came together in our (second) Cactus game. That’s when I felt like we were at another level,” Reynolds said.
The victory sets up a stern quarterfinal test Thursday night. Deer Valley (26-14), in its first 4A season in decades, will take on No. 3 Tucson Salpointe Catholic (32-5), the two-time defending state champion.
The home team looked dominant in taking an 11-2 lead in the first set.
While Bradshaw Mountain erased a 15-5 deficit in the opening set, most of the points to get within striking distance at 19-15 were the result of the Skyhawks hitting or serving errors.
“We were missing serves and we needed to keep the ball in play. Instead of hitting errors we needed to go for their setters so they couldn’t run a play. We’re such a young team and I think there were some jitters,” Deer Valley Coach Jackie Wallace said.
Junior middle hitter Peyton Bradshaw jump started the visitors’ attack with three late kills. But after the third point, a serve into the net ended the Bears’ comeback hopes.
By the second set, the Bears were starting to match the Skyhawks’ firepower. Three kills by 6-2 junior middle blocker Savannah Davis staked the Skyhawks to an 18-10 advantage.
“She has brought energy and that power we were lacking,” Wallace said. “She listens to me almost too well. She’s very coachable and hears us during matches.”
Junior outside hitter Mailani Manuel led a charge nearly all the way back. She led all players with six kills in the set, and two of those cut the deficit to 19-17 and 21-18, respectively.
Fellow junior outside hitter Jordyn Moser chipped in three kills and an ace. But Deer Valley reeled off the final three points to clinch the set.
“My juniors are definitely studs. I’m looking forward to their growth. They can go 1-for-1 with these guys are any Phoenix team and we’re going to continue working on it next year,” Coach Sobczak said.
The teams jockeyed for the lead in the third set until Reynolds hit three kills to build a lead.
“I notice that on cross-court kills they weren’t able to pick it up, so I just kept going where they weren’t at,” Reynolds said.
Davis again took over with a kill and two blocks – the second of which put the Skyhawks up 18-10. Manuel led another mini-run but two blocks by freshman middle blocker Elizabeth Rupp slammed the door.
Davis finished the match with six kills and five blocks that directly led to a point.
The playoffs seemed like a pipe dream in Sobczak’s first five years coaching at Bradshaw Mountain, as the long-downtrodden program improved but at an achingly slow pace. Last season’s 11-16 record was the high watermark.
With that in mind, it is easy to see why the coach was overjoyed by her team’s accomplishments and tearing up describing their landmark year.
“I’m very proud of them. They mean a lot to me. It’s my life’s passion and it’s been a pleasure working with them,” Coach Sobczak said.
Deer Valley, despite playing only one senior in its rotation Tuesday night, appears to have the ability to challenge Salpointe.
But several West Valley teams, Cactus foremost among them, have tried to knock off the Lancers in the last three 4A playoffs.
They have not succeeded. Salpointe sent Cactus out for the third straight year Tuesday night, winning 25-14, 25-18, 25-20.
“We haven’t seen them at all this year. We know they’re the defending state champions. At this point, I think every team we see is going to be the best of the best,” Wallace said.