Trailing 2-1 to the No. 4 Division III Monument Valley Mustangs and losing the fourth 21-18 the Coconino Panthers needed to find a spark.
The team's seniors pulled the Panthers (5-5 and the DIII No. 20 team as of press time) together to win the fourth game, and Coconino went on to win the fifth as well for a 3-2 come from behind upset win over the Mustangs.
Coconino opened the match slowly, but still managed a 25-22 win before dropping the second and third games 25-19 and 25-18.
Panthers head coach Amanda Gabitas said it was a conscious decision made by the team that made all the difference.
"The girls came out slow and had to make a decision after the second and third games to play their best," the first-year head coach said. "They fought hard and they wanted (the win) and they dug deep to get it."
Giving the Mustangs their first loss of the season -- Monument Valley stands at 10-1 on the year -- was a huge boost of momentum for the Panthers who reached .500 with the win.
"We play three matches in a row this week so this win gives us a huge boost of momentum going into our game against Mingus (today)," Gabitas said. "This was a great team, Monument Valley is awesome and always play a hard match, so for our team to play the way it did, it gives our girls a lot of confidence." Monument Valley showcased a strong attack from the opening serve, but Coconino's defense handled the strength of the Mustangs in stride.
Gaby Paterson had 28 digs as the Panthers libero and Marissa Hoffman added 18 to go along with a team-leading 13 kills.
"Marissa had a lot of kills and played very well in defense," Gabitas said. "Riley Hanneman had one of her better games, and Gaby Paterson passed the ball and had a nice match."
Hanneman led the front line with six blocks while sophomore Kierstin Fowler added five. Korryn Brackin set up the offense with 37 assists.
It took a little while for the Panthers block to get in position at the net, but once they did it was a wall the Mustangs had a hard time getting past.
"They're a great hitting team and they hit around our block a ton," Gabitas said. "They do everything well and they're scrappy, but in the last game we started getting our block together and had some really big plays off the block."
The win is a testament to the Panthers just what their own determination can accomplish, according to Gabitas.
"It was simple volleyball and they just had to do what they know how to do," she said. "Our seniors stepped up because they wanted this so badly, and they knew they had to prove it. To rally together and coming back was big."
The Panthers host Mingus at 6 p.m. tonight.
Bill Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2251.