Carrying over success from their weekend tournament, playing relentlessly on offense and defense, and making a statement with a dominant 3-0 sweep of their crosstown rival to remain the only unbeaten team in the Grand Canyon Region, the Flagstaff Eagles had little problems taking care of the hosting Coconino Panthers on Tuesday.
On paper, the match looked like it had the potential to be a barnburner; however, the Eagles, ranked eighth in the 4A Conference entering the night, never trailed on the way to winning the first two sets, 25-22, 25-13 and closed out a tightly contested third set, 27-25, over the No. 7 Panthers.
"They played lights-out (at the Nike Tournament of Champions tournament), and I felt like it carried into yesterday's practice and then it carried into tonight's match," said Eagles head coach Beth Haglin, whose team improved to 7-2 overall and 5-0 in the region while pushing Coconino to 7-3 and 5-1. "We were just going to work. Our girls did everything well."
Lydia Miller had a team-high 11 kills to go with nine digs and three blocks to help the Eagles win their third straight match and collect their sixth sweep of the regular season so far. With Miller at the service line, the Eagles regained the late third-set lead at 24-23 thanks to a 4-0 run that that Coconino's Dana Parker snapped by hitting off the fingertips of the Flagstaff block.
Madeline Wilson put down a kill for Flagstaff to tie it up at 25-all before Reece Honanie stuffed a kill off a weak Panthers pass, and the Eagles secured the victory on a Coconino hitting error.
Flagstaff's serve, highlighted by Jasmine Berry's performance at the line, kept Coconino and its offensive powerhouse Dana Parker from getting into offensive systems all night. With Berry at the line early in the second set, the Eagles took a 9-2 lead and never looked back.
Panthers first-year head coach Bree Davis said there was an expectation for her team to perform better.
"Our girls are physically there, but mentally, tonight, we just came in a little unfocused," she said.
Entering the night averaging 4.5 kills per set, Parker struggled to keep her attacks on the court, committing eight errors to go with 10 kills. After Flagstaff's Sofia Quintanilla laid out for a pancake dig, Parker committed an error that put her team down 17-12 in the opening set.
The Panthers, who had a four-match win streak come to an end, clawed back into the opener toward the end after trailing by as much as eight points. Sam Hampton, who had four service aces, served two straight aces to the backline, cutting the deficit to 24-22, but Miller hit off a dig attempt to ice it.
"I want to use this as a learning tool to help us push through the rest of the season and hopefully split the series with them," Davis said.
While the frontcourt tallied points thanks to blocks and winning on setter dumps and weak passes, Eagles libero Hutton Hagerman controlled the back, notching 24 digs while putting up strong passes to help the Eagles keep any Coconino hitter other than Parker from collecting more than three kills.
"I think compared to some of our last matches, our entire team picked it up on defense, and that helped me pick up my defense too," Hagerman said.
Eagles middle blocker Tara Brain had six blocks and nine kills, with setter Brooklyn Quick contributing four, and Wilson and Honanie each added two. Quick had 29 assists to go with six kills and seven digs for Flagstaff, which never allowed Coconino to take a lead through the first and second sets.
"I felt like the girls stayed intact emotionally. They could have easily in that third set said, 'Hey, we are up by two, let's go to four,' but they fought and fought, and in the timeouts they were talking about stopping them right now and they were so into the game," Haglin said.
The Panthers will start the second half of a four-match homestand at 6 p.m. Thursday when they take on take on 23rd-ranked Lee Williams looking to complete the season sweep.
The Eagles will also look to finish a sweep of a region opponent on Thursday, when they host the No. 30 Mingus Marauders for a 6 p.m. match.