When you coach winning volleyball as long as Beth Haglin has, the target on your back gets larger and larger with every new season.
Melissa Yee, head coach for Marcos de Niza and a Northern Arizona alumni who went from walk-on to scholarship athlete, and her Padres missed the mark Tuesday night against a young Flagstaff Eagles team.
Gracelyn Nez came up one kill short of tying her four-set career high with 22 kills, including a match-winner that finished a marathon fourth set, and the Eagles outlasted the Padres, 3-1, in their War Memorial Gymnasium.
Nez had her team's final two kills of the night in a fourth set that ended in favor of the Eagles at 30-28, helping Flagstaff win a postponed home opener and improve to 2-0 while handing Marcos de Niza its first loss of the season. The sophomore outside hitter recorded 11 digs for a double-double, and the Eagles won an early-season match that had a playoff feel.
"I think she's into it, and she gets her kids hyped up," Haglin said of the intensity that Yee and her roster bring to a match.
The Padres, now 2-1, opened strong and in control of the meeting between the 4A Conference programs, taking advantage of Eagles miscues to win the opening game 25-17. Flagstaff committed three hitting errors alone during a first-set 7-1 run from the Padres that had the visitors ahead 17-10.
Toward the end of the second set, Flagstaff's adjustments started working. The Padres went ahead 13-9 on a 5-0 surge, dropping an ace and winning on an overpass in the process, but Nez terminated the ball three straight times, igniting the Eagles to answer and tie it at 14-all.
"I asked my setters to lower the ball. We were setting way too high," Haglin said of the early hitting struggles.
Oniyah Shirley, who tallied four kills, notched a set-winning ace in the second at 25-20, helping the Eagles tie the match. The junior served during an early fourth-set Flagstaff 6-0 run that Marcos de Niza quickly erased with their own 5-0 outburst that left the teams tied at 7-all.
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Shirley's paintbrush kill gave the Eagles match point at 24-23 in the fourth stanza, but a service error from libero Paetyn Nakai began a fight for the finish. Shirley also committed a service error on match point at 27-26.
Nakai finished with 26 digs, while Bridget Bond added 14 and fellow setter Devynn Hatathlie contributed 14. Hatathlie notched 14 assists and Bond had half as many.
Zoe Schrag finished her night with 12 blocks for the Eagles, who took the second set 25-20 and then the match lead after a 25-21 third-set win. Shea Wilson, who had four blocks, teamed up Schrag for a big rejection in the third, giving Flagstaff a 22-18 advantage on the point.
Alyssa Prager collected three blocks for Flagstaff, which was playing its home opener a few days late after a cybersecurity issue last week caused Flagstaff Unified School District to cancel classes Thursday and Friday. The Eagles were supposed to open on Thursday with Greenway, which handed Flagstaff its only regular-season loss in 2018.
Flagstaff a year ago swept Marcos de Niza in Tempe. Despite the Padres having more seniors and juniors on the roster, both teams were working with a short list of true returning starters.
Haglin was impressed by her team's effort to keep Yee and the Padres from hitting their target.
"When you have your first home match, the big crowd, it's really nice to see them improve; I mean, the kids were shaking," Haglin said.
Flagstaff faces the Mingus Union Marauders on Thursday for a road match in Cottonwood at 6 p.m. to open the Grand Canyon Region schedule.