Two teams with junior-laden rosters that have been on cruise control are set to collide when they meet Thursday in the quarterfinals of the 4A Conference state volleyball tournament.
The fifth-seeded Flagstaff Eagles, who advanced from the first round with a 3-0 win over No. 12 Shadow Mountain, are set to face the No. 4-seeded Sunrise Mountain Mustangs of Peoria, a team that went 15-2 in the regular season and did not drop a set in their victories.
A young team led by two key attackers up front and a solid service game on both sides of the ball, the Mustangs had two losses to the same team: the No. 2-seeded Cactus Cobras.
During their regular-season dominance, the Mustangs blanked Prescott, Coconino and Seton Catholic, the last being the only team out of that group of shared opponents to take down the Eagles. Seton Catholic, the sixth seed this year, forced Flagstaff to put a goose egg on the board, but the 3-0 loss came just two matches into the Eagles' season when the team of fresh faces was still finding its chemistry.
UP THE INTENSITY
Like last season, the opening round for the Eagles went smoothly. A year ago, Flagstaff toppled Youngker 25-20, 25-13, 25-19 at home before exiting in the next round as the No. 3 seed. An all-around strong performance saw them cruise past Shadow Mountain to start this year's postseason run, and the night ended with a third-set score of 25-9.
Eagles senior outside hitter Lydia Miller said she hopes this postseason goes differently. She said the team wanted to make sure not to let up against the Matadors in order to keep a level of intensity intact moving forward.
"Being the fifth seed has its perks, but also its negatives," Miller said Tuesday night after putting up 20 kills. "You don't play the worst team first, but it showed last season when we played Youngker and their team wasn't as good that year. The next team was really good, and it's hard to bring the momentum of a slow game into the next game, so I think having to play hard will help us."
WHO HOLDS THE ACE?
Flagstaff's block, which has been peaking as of late, will face two Mustangs hitters who are both averaging nearly three kills per set. Freshman McKenzie Wise leads a team of one senior, nine juniors, three sophomores and one other freshman in kills with 141. Jocelyn Teichman, a junior, has the second-most kills on the team at 125. Those two are also components of a service game that has posted an average of nearly four aces per set so far this year. Wise has a team-high 38 aces entering the match, while Teichman is fourth on the team with 27.
Similar to Shadow Mountain in that it brings two efficient attackers to the net in Miller and Tara Brain, Flagstaff holds the edge in blocking. The Eagles are averaging 4.3 blocks per set, led by Brain and Theresa Palacios, who both sit atop the state leaderboard.
Despite not having as high an average in aces, Flagstaff has shown throughout the season that it can put pressure on teams with its serve. In the first-round match, libero Hutton Hagerman shot off three aces and setter Brooklyn Quick added two of her own, and the entire team rattled off serves to the backline to keep the Matadors from getting into an offensive rhythm most of the match. Moreover, in both meetings with Coconino, including the season finale to win the Grand Canyon Region title, Flagstaff servers were efficient at making sure the second and third touches did not come easy.