Coconino Panthers first-year head coach Bree Davis has enjoyed watching the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
Dana Parker and Lauren Touchstone set the tone early, three Coconino players finished with at least six kills and the No. 9-ranked Panthers cruised to a 3-0 victory, winning on their Senior Night Tuesday over the No. 30 Mingus Marauders and completing the season sweep of their Grand Canyon Region foe.
"We've put some players in some positions they were not in at the beginning of the season and girls are stepping up," Davis said.
Parker led all hitters with 13 kills and Touchstone, Sydney Swanson and Sophie Sinek added six apiece for the Panthers, who improved to 13-3 overall and 10-1 in the region the night before the season finale. With freshman setter Brooke Parker helping to spread out the offense and a solid backrow keeping the rhythm flowing with strong passing, Coconino's attackers put on a clinic on the way to the 25-9, 25-14, 25-15 victory.
With a 4A Conference state tournament bid locked up, the Panthers go into Wednesday's season finale against crosstown rival Flagstaff High with both teams looking to claim the region title.
"At this point of the season, every team is hitting a peak, so there's nothing we coaches can really teach them at this point. So we've talked a lot about having heart and sticking together as a team," Davis said. "And tomorrow's the championship, so we are pressing for that."
Swanson recorded three blocks, a season-high stat for the senior opposite hitter. Her offense was just as strong. Coconino started pulling away in the second set thanks to back-to-back aces from Brooke Parker that were followed up by back-to-back kills from Swanson, and the Panthers jumped out to a 18-9 lead. Just before the spark, Sinek put her team up 11-7 on a slide play for a kill.
"We connect a lot better now, we are used to playing with each other now," Swanson said. "We play more comfortable. Early on, it was such a new team that we didn't really know how we played together, but we are meshing more, getting used to it."
Last time the teams met, Mingus managed to pull out a set in Cottonwood. This time around, the Marauders never attained a lead. Other than some early-set ties, Mingus, which fell to 3-13 and 2-9 with the loss, never gained momentum throughout the night on the way to suffering its fourth consecutive defeat.
"Sophie has been an offensive machine for us -- which I think we need in order to take some pressure off of Dana. In the beginning we tried to spread our offense out, we just didn't have someone who was really producing, so having Sophie step up and Sydney step up and all that really helps us and it's what we need at this time of the season," Davis said.
The win was Coconino's sixth straight, and during the stretch of victories, many of which came on the road, the team dropped just three sets.
Ashley Monette tallied 13 digs, with Kendall Haylett adding 11 and Kenzie Palmer contributing eight. Shae Dahl ended her night with two blocks, one coming on a one-on-one situation in the middle, and Swanson and Sinek combined for a second-set-winning block.
"We've been working on our block," Swanson said. "We've been working on it a lot, too, because we know Flagstaff brings a big game and their outside is really strong, so we have to work on adjusting to the line shots, stationary blocking, moving well, everything."
There was no answer for Dana Parker and Touchstone in the opening set, as the two seniors dominated Mingus from out of the gates. Touchstone put down two kills during a 4-0 run that started the night, and Parker soon did the same during a 6-0 burst that ended with the Panthers ahead 13-3.
"We talked about coming out on fire and they did exactly that. The coaches talked about it tonight, we felt the tempo was fast," Davis said.
Dana Parker, Touchstone, Monette, Swanson, Haylett, Dahl and Lexi Settle all played their final home game of the regular season Tuesday.
Wednesday's region-title decider is set for a 6 p.m. start at Flagstaff High.