The Flagstaff Eagles will face a volleyball team that's a lot like them in today's 4A Conference state tournament semifinals match.
So for the fourth-seeded Eagles, the rematch against the No. 1-seeded Greenway Demons could come down to making sure they don't beat themselves.
“It’s going to be about whoever can step up their game and play and limit their errors. That's who will probably prevail," said Eagles head coach Beth Haglin on Friday, a day after her team swept No. 12 Desert Edge at Flagstaff High School.
Both teams have their share of players who can terminate the ball. The Demons, who have not lost a match so far this season, hold an advantage over the 19-1 Eagles on offense, taking four hitters into the semis who are averaging two or more kills per set while Flagstaff has half that number.
Greenway's leading attacker, senior Mykenna Nelson, had 19 kills when the teams first met in late August, as the Demons opened their schedule with a four-set victory over the Eagles. As Greenway won at home over Flagstaff, 25-15, 17-25, 25-15, 25-16, Nelson collected her second-highest amount of kills in a four-set match so far this season.
Moreover, four of Greenway's key pieces on offense are hitting .290 or better. For the season, when including matches played outside the regular season for both teams, the Demons are averaging 12.7 kills per set, with the Eagles at 11.3. Greenway holds the slight advantage in serving as well, averaging 2.7 service aces per set to Flagstaff's 2.5.
Errors played a role when the teams first met. Greenway had 49 kills while Flagstaff registered 37 to go with 25 errors on 136 total attempts. Flagstaff ended up hitting a season-low .088 in the loss.
But Flagstaff feels like it's taking a different team to the semis compared to the one that suffered its lone loss of the regular season to Greenway way back in August.
“It feels like a long time ago," Haglin said. "We saw them early in the season, and I just feel that we’ve changed a lot. Our dominating hitters and players are probably the same, but the biggest difference is that we are playing better as a team.”
Flagstaff has had different players step up for big postseason points. Jazzy Berry added her arm to the first-round win against No. 13 St. Mary's, and Madeline Wilson helped the team mix up its attack and sweep a scrappy 12th-seed Desert Edge team in the quarterfinals, with both wins coming at home.
Meanwhile, Flagstaff's Gracelyn Nez and Tara Brain have been anchoring the offense. Nez has averaged four kills per set in four of the last five matches, with Desert Edge the only team to slow down that pace. Brain tallied 16 kills on .538 hitting against St. Mary's and had five against Desert Edge while hitting .357 and not committing a single error.
Nez is also giving her team 3.7 kills per set, just higher than Nelson's 3.2.
“Well, not even just on paper but also in play, we are similar to them and they are similar to us," Haglin said.
Flagstaff is looking to come out hot against the Demons, serve tough and use a stout, aggressive defense to keep their opponent from finding its rhythm. They hope their experienced seniors can set the tone.
With six upperclassmen having played in the state tourney last season on the way to an exit in the quarters, Flagstaff hopes experience will also play a role in taking down a fairly young Demons roster, which has just three seniors with postseason experience.
“We have to play good defense behind the block, and that’s what we're practicing today," said Haglin, whose teams throughout the years have found success by using big blocks. "Watching what they did early on, we put together a game plan and the rest is just about playing our game.”
The semifinal match is set for a 7 p.m. start at McClintock High School in Tempe.