It's been a season of firsts for the Coconino Panthers beach volleyball team, and with Wednesday's victory, it can add another to the list.
Coconino's No. 1 duo of Dana Parker and Drew Hannemann won a decisive fifth match and the No. 2-seeded Panthers pulled a thorn from their side to get past the first round of the Division I state tournament for the first time in school history, beating the 12th-seeded Chaparral Firebirds, 3-2.
Playing postseason hosts for the first time ever and having never beaten the Firebirds, the Panthers got much-needed wins from courts four and five before losing on two and three at the Flagstaff Athletic Center-East.
Parker and Hannemann won in straight sets, battling to take the opener 24-22 despite struggling on serve-receive. Allowing seven first-set aces, including one that gave Chaparral a 22-21 lead, Coconino's No. 1s used strong defense to take the 1-0 advantage.
"They were serving my sideline really aggressively, which is something I am not really used to seeing, so it was just about adjusting and taking another step out toward the line that helped eventually," Parker said.
Hannemann won on a ball that got hung up above the net to get back the serve and tie the first set at 22-all. With Hannemann at the service line, Chaparral fell to 23-22 on a hitting error, and Coconino took it on Hannemann's hit down the line after Parker fell to the sand for a difficult dig.
"It's really important to get those balls at the net, because when they essentially set you, you have to take that swing," Hannemann said.
With the win, Parker and Hannemann remain undefeated as a duo at 12-0.
"We've never beaten Chaparral, so good for us," said Panthers head coach Greta Hannemann, whose team also improved to 12-0 with the postseason victory. "I didn't want to bring it up that we've always lost to them, because I was hoping that because we were not playing at their court, the girls would not realize that we lose to this team all the time.
"Sometimes you choose not to talk about things, and it worked out in our favor."
Drew and Parker allowed just one second-set ace while putting down three of their own on the way to the 21-16 win. With Parker at the line, the Panthers went on a 5-0 run to take a 12-9 lead, but Chaparral battled back to tie it at 12.
Parker's kill put the Panthers up 20-15, and Drew followed up with one of her own to clinch the match and lift the team to the next round.
"We're excited for the quarterfinals," Drew said.
Coconino is now 5-0 in matches this season that have gone to court one tiebreakers.
TIME TO STEP UP
At court four, Jalisa Ingram and Kendall Haylett, playing in what Greta said was one of their best matches this season, cruised to a 21-8 opening-set win that ended on Haylett's ace. The duo raced out to a 10-3 lead thanks to tipping the ball to different areas of the court to keep the Firebirds off-balance.
"They were communicating well, covering well and they just had it going for them," Greta said.
Ingram and Haylett used a 6-0 run to keep the momentum on their side in the second set, but the Firebirds didn't go down easily. Chipping away at a 15-9 deficit, the Firebirds used two aces to cut the score to 16-15 and force a Panthers timeout. Ingram emerged from the break and slammed a kill to stop the bleeding and push the pair to a straight-set victory with the 21-17 win.
Chaparral, which blanked Coconino last season and in 2015, won 21-18 in both sets on court three and handed Panthers No. 2 team of Maddie Link and Breezy Weber their second loss of 2017.
Weber's block tied up the first set 10-all, and Link put the pair ahead soon later at 12-11 on a tipped ball. The Firebirds, however, kept pace with the Panthers and used a 4-0 surge to take the opener.
Coconino's No. 3 duo of Sydney Dahl and Sydney Swanson lost 21-15, 21-11, as no match went to a third set during the day.
At court five, Ashley Monette and Shae Dahl rallied to win the first set 21-18 before dominating in the second set, 21-13.
"All they do is win," Greta said of her No. 5 pair. "I am so proud of them. They find ways to win -- no matter what the style is they figure it out, adjust and win."
Coconino will host the No. 10 Millennium Tigers on at Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at the Flagstaff Athletic Center-East for a rematch.
In their regular-season finale at home, the Panthers edged the Tigers 3-2.
"We've got so many firsts, and we are 12-0 and just riding this big wave, and hopefully we can stay on top of that as long as we can," Greta said.