Just three matches remain in the regular season and the Coconino Panthers are still in pursuit of another Division II state tournament berth.
While the Panthers, ranked No. 14 in the division, dropped to 8-4 overall with Wednesday’s 7-2 loss to the No. 1 Notre Dame Prep Saints (15-0), a pair of wins over bubble teams last week pushed them back into playoff contention.
A 5-4 win against No. 18 McClintock (8-5) and a 6-3 victory against No. 16 Prescott (8-4) on back-to-back days last week moved Coconino up, and its final three matches will be against teams outside the playoff hunt.
“I definitely think we can pull through against Mingus, Bradshaw and Flag High, all section matches,” said Coconino’s Faith Daab after Wednesday’s match. “If we just play the way we did today, we will be able to pull through with a win.”
Mingus Union entered Wednesday at No. 38, just behind No. 37 Bradshaw Mountain, while No. 47 Flagstaff will wrap up the regular season next week. The Marauders will cap off the Panthers’ three-match week Thursday at 3:30 p.m. with the Bears and Eagles following Monday and Tuesday.
In the meeting with Notre Dame Prep, which entered the day totaling a 117-9 record across its 14 team matches prior to meeting Coconino, Daab and freshman Emma Walker stopped the Panthers from suffering a 9-0 sweep, something the Saints had done in 10 of 14 matches.
Coconino's Emma Walker swings at a ball during Wednesday's match against Notre Dame Prep.
Pulling ahead 4-1 in the No. 1 doubles match, the Panthers top duo traded games over the next four before winning the final two of the day to turn a 6-3 advantage into an 8-3 victory. Olivia Larson and Connor Garrod fell 8-2 in the No. 2 match, and Malia Glass and Taylor Rhoton dropped the No. 3 match 8-3.
Coconino's Olivia Larson hits a ball during Wednesday's match against Notre Dame Prep.
“Honestly, I think it just builds confidence,” said Daab, who lost to Notre Dame Prep twice in last season’s 9-0 defeat. “I think I was just really happy with how we played; it was definitely the best doubles we had played this whole season.”
While Daab and Walker continued to play on the top court, singles play started with Rhoton and Garrod pulling out a few games before falling 6-0, 6-3 and 6-2, 6-1 respectively. Glass and Larson also dropped their singles matches before Daab and Walker capped off their hard-fought matches.
After pulling ahead early in her first set against Notre Dame Prep’s Maysa Tuftin, Daab fell into a battle. After leading 4-3 and 5-4, Daab reached a tiebreaker with the set tied at 6-6.
Coconino's Faith Daab watches the ball head toward the net during Wednesday's match against Notre Dame Prep.
Behind 3-0 to start out the tiebreaker to seven, Daab fought back with four straight points as the two players tied at four straight scores from three to seven. Having held off set point trailing 5-6, Daab came away with the final two points following the 7-7 tie and pulled out the victory.
While Tuftin won the second set 6-4 to force a deciding third-set tiebreaker to 10, Daab jumped ahead right away with six of the first seven points on her way to a 10-3 final score and second victory of the afternoon.
“Especially with tiebreak wins, I think those are the ones that can really go either way,” said Daab, who will face similar competition in the D-II singles tournament set to begin April 20. “Tiebreakers, it is totally different than playing games, you can just kind of tell. You just have to keep your head in it because each point matters in a tie breaker. She's the No. 1 on the No. 1 team in the division, so I am excited.”
Meanwhile, Walker fell 6-2 in her opening set but traded games back-and-forth with Notre Dame’s Natalie Hoffman in the second set. Leading early on, Walker fell behind 5-4 before falling by a final of 6-4.