Madeline Wilson glided around her setter from the middle to the right side, forcing defenders on the other side of the net to make a quick decision.
The decision wasn't made quickly enough, and Wilson executed a slide play with a hit off the late incoming block attempt to give Flagstaff a 20-6 lead in the third set of Tuesday's first-round match of the 4A Conference state volleyball tournament.
Using a mix of schemes on offense and receiving contributions from several attackers, the fourth-seeded Eagles notched a four-set victory over the No. 13 St. Mary's Knights and moved into the quarterfinals of the bracket.
“We are trying to mix up our offense, change up our sets, do some slides, do some twos in the middle, some threes and shoots," Eagles head coach Beth Haglin said. "We really need to mix up our offense because when we play these other teams, we have to be ready with more of an arsenal instead of just plowing through.”
The Eagles finished the regular season at 17-1 and for the second straight year had a spotless Grand Canyon Region record. They've been able to power past weaker opponents, using the strong arms of senior middle blocker Tara Brain and freshman outside hitter Gracelyn Nez, the team's leaders in kills. But as the postseason unfolds and the teams get tougher, Haglin has started to add to the offense.
Haglin's also expecting more contributions from the team's depth, which hasn't been overshadowed by the heavy hitters.
Hitting left side, Eagles senior Jazzy Berry had a stellar performance in the state tournament opener, as has been the case in the last few matches. The senior's kills have been more powerful and accurate, and it showed when she made it 12-7 against St. Mary's in the fourth and final set and later when she sent the Knights home with a match-point kill.
Berry started the season dealing with back issues, and once she started feeling better, Haglin had her doing more at the net after using her as a defensive specialist through a chunk of the season. In the regular-season finale against Coconino, Berry recorded six kills, following up a five-kill performance from the match before against Prescott. It was the first time this season she had five or more kills in consecutive matches.
Haglin and company hope the combination of smart plays, power from their most dangerous hitters and solid performances from the team's depth continues into Thursday's quarterfinals match against 12th-seeded Desert Edge.
The 4A is new to Desert Edge, which lost its lost two first-round state tourney matches while competing at the 5A level. Meanwhile, Flagstaff is looking to snap a two-year drought of reaching the semifinals, having lost in the quarterfinals those seasons.
The Scorpions upset No. 5 seed Canyon Del Oro on Tuesday in four sets to set up a rematch with the Eagles, who will host Thursday's 6:30 p.m. quarterfinal. Flagstaff opened the season with a sweep of Desert Edge, 25-17, 25-21, 25-15, with Nez, Wilson and Brain combining for 25 of the team's 34 kills. Desert Edge's offense lacked a spark in the first meeting with Flagstaff, registering just 13 kills.
Desert Edge played scrappy and with enough tenacity to knock off Canyon Del Oro, however. The Scorpions, like the Eagles, dropped the first set of their first-round match, falling behind after a 25-23 loss. Yet unlike the Eagles, who stormed back, the Scorpions grinded through the next three sets against Canyon Del Oro, winning out 27-25, 25-20, 26-24.
Brain knows the Eagles will have to keep playing smart on offense to avoid being the Scorpions' next upset.
"Haglin always tells us to play smart, to play the court bigger than it is," Brain said.