Eagles head coach Beth Haglin knew her third-seeded team was going to be in for a challenge Thursday night against the No. 6 Bradshaw Mountain Bears.
The top two teams in the Grand Canyon Region had already played two five-set matches this season -- with Flagstaff coming out on top in both -- so it made sense for it to happen one more time.
Flagstaff won at home, 25-22, 24-26, 25-21, 21-25, 15-9, in the 4A Conference quarterfinals over Bradshaw Mountain to advance to the semis for the second straight season.
The Eagles, who are seeded the highest they have been since 2015, move on to face No. 2-seeded Estrella Foothills on Saturday in the Valley.
Haglin said following the win she was more scared of facing Bradshaw than she was for the potential of Estrella.
"I know Estrella is a good team, but I was more afraid of these guys," Haglin said. "These guys have such a well-rounded program, great hitters and great defense."
Gracelyn Nez, who was named the Grand Canyon Region Offensive Player of the Year earlier this week, was a force at the net against the Bears in a matchup against region player of the year Mailani Manuel.
Nez finished with 19 kills and 25 digs, and sparked her team when they needed it in the third set.
The Eagles hit a funk in the third stanza after Bradshaw tied the match at 1-1 with a set-two victory.
Flagstaff fell behind 14-8 to the Bears in the third, forcing Haglin to use a an early timeout to collect her team. Nez came out of the timeout and rattled off four of the next five points for the Eagles off of four kills -- including a tip she redirected away from the Bradshaw block -- to force a Bradshaw timeout.
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Flagstaff eventually took its first lead of the third set off a hitting error by Bradshaw, and it was followed up with a Nez kill on the next point to make the score 18-16.
The Bears cut the deficit to 22-20 only for the host to get some timely production out of Alyssa Prager, who got a block to set up match point and then put down the set-sealing kill.
"The bottom line is we came out of the timeout and we said, 'Just one point at a time, and you can't panic and keep our emotions in check,' and we did that," Haglin said. "We just kept fighting."
Flagstaff let a lead slip in the fourth set after leading the Bears 16-9. Bradshaw used a 12-1 run to take a 21-17 advantage in the fourth game and kept the Eagles away to force the decider. Manuel ignited the Bears in the fourth with seven kills to get her team going offensively.
The Eagles jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the deciding fifth set, taking advantage of some miscues by Bradshaw to start. Bradshaw cut it to 10-6, but Manuel hit two straight shots out to put points on the board for Flagstaff.
Manuel was then stuffed by Flagstaff's Ainsley Thomas -- who had five blocks on the night -- to give the Eagles a commanding 13-6 lead.
Manuel finally got a kill to drop, and it was followed by a Flagstaff hitting error to put the Bears down 13-8. Prager secured match point with a block and then Eagles had a hitting error the point after, but Nez put down the game-sealing score to give the Eagles the win.
Prager had another strong playoff performance with eight kills, 10 digs and five blocks while teammate Bridget Bond went for a double-double with 24 assists, 11 digs and four kills. Flagstaff libero Paetyn Nakai had 38 digs and Devynn Hatathlie added in 21 assists.
The Eagles travel to Estrella Foothills Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Wolves and Eagles met three times in the Coconino tournament this season, and each time Flagstaff was able to win.
"We just gotta come out and play hard against Estrella and give them our A-game and hopefully we step up and play well," Haglin said."We have the last two matches, we've played pretty consistent."
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