Nobody can seem to break the Sunrise Mountain Mustangs.
Sweeping their fourth straight opponent in as many regular-season matches, the Mustangs topped the Coconino Panthers in a 4A Conference contest on Thursday, 3-0, thanks to the hard-hitting combo of freshman McKenzie Wise and junior Jocelyn Teichman.
Dana Parker had 20 kills and eight digs for the Panthers, who dropped their home opener and first match of 2017 to move to a 2-1 regular-season record. It was also the first time Coconino, which lost in three sets a year ago to the Mustangs, suffered a straight-set loss.
After dropping the back-and-forth first set, 25-20, the Coconino offense fell flat to start the second set, which ended in favor of the Mustangs, 25-18. Sunrise opened the second frame on a 4-0 run and soon took a 14-4 lead thanks to a 6-0 spurt in which two services aces were dished out.
In fact, during most of Sunrise Mountain's runs, Wise was at the service line. Helping her team pull away from a first-set tie at 16-all, Wise led her team on an 8-0 tear as she kept Coconino's passing off-balance and unable to get into rhythm by serving hard to the back line.
"Losing 3-0 is hard, especially in our own gym, but we are taking the little things that we did well and will learn to capitalize on those," said Panthers head coach Bree Davis, who coached her first-ever regular-season home varsity match Thursday.
Despite never leading in the second set, Coconino pushed back in the third, only to fall 25-22. With Shae Dahl at the line, the Panthers took their third lead of the set on a hitting error, a net violation and a powerful Dana Parker kill that came right after Lauren Touchstone's pancake dig kept the volley alive.
"That was one of the things we talked about in the locker room, how proud I was to see their desire to beat them," Davis said about the team's discussion at the break. "We talk about mini-games, getting fives, beating them to five, then 10, and I could see that the girls wanted that tonight and that makes me proud of them."
Coconino was the first to 15 in the opening set when Brooke Parker set Touchstone for a kill and quick sideout. But, as they did all night, the Mustangs continued to be the better team at closing.
Dahl and freshman setter Brooke Parker were a force at the net, with the former getting two blocks and the latter adding three to go with her 32 assists.
The work up front was an improvement Coconino's coach wanted to see, and it came against a team whose hitting makes them a 4A state title contender this season. Sunrise Mountain reached the quarterfinals of last year's tournament, and most of the sophomores who were on that team are juniors now that have even more weapons surrounding them.
"At the net, blocking-wise, we really struggled this weekend" at the 2017 Goldwater Volleyball Festival tournament, Davis said. "Tonight, we saw a huge improvement in our blocking."
As the serve-receive game went through its struggles, Davis elected to put the libero jersey on Sam Hampton in the second set. Hampton went on to tally nine digs in her limited time at the position.
"Sam came to play tonight. She was relentless on defense and almost perfect on serve-receive, and that is one thing we need out of a libero now, is one who can do both," Davis said. "We are excited to see what she can do for us."
Hoping to turn what they learned Thursday night into future wins, Coconino turns around quickly to host its annual tournament, the Coconino Classic, which this year takes place over two days instead of one. The Panthers get the bracket going with a match against the Holbrook Roadrunners at 2:30 p.m.