Flagstaff volleyball hadn't been in a five-set match in quite some time heading into Tuesday. In fact, the last time the Eagles were in a five-setter in the regular season was Oct. 11, 2016, against Cactus Shadows -- which ended as a home loss for the Eagles.
Well, with the Bradshaw Mountain Bears in town, the Eagles found themselves locked in a tight one all night in their War Memorial Gymnasium. Behind the usual strong attack from Gracelyn Nez, along with some key plays from the rest of the lineup, Flagstaff came out on top with a 25-27, 25-16, 25-23, 23-25, 15-4 win over Bradshaw Mountain.
The Eagles stay perfect at 6-0 in the regular season and improved to 4-0 in the 4A Grand Canyon Region standings. The Bears, on the other hand, dropped to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in region.
"They just kept working hard throughout the whole match," Eagles head coach Beth Haglin said of her team. "They never saw themselves out of it. They never gave up, they just kept fighting every set -- every set was a battle. It's nice to see that, and nice to see in a close match that we can come out in the fifth set and just do our job."
Aside from Nez's usually dominant stat line -- she finished with a team-high 24 kills and 14 digs, adding in five assists, eight blocks and two service aces -- Haglin was impressed by senior opposite hitter Shea Wilson coming up big when the Eagles needed to change up the pace on the Bears.
Wilson finished the night with nine kills and eight digs, including two in the deciding fifth set. Wilson also combined with Alyssa Williams in the fifth for an early block that helped set the tone for the finale.
"You know who else stepped it up tonight? It was Shea," Haglin said. "She came up with some big hits, and they weren't the prettiest hits in the world, but they worked. On our right side we had -- I call them woof hits -- a couple woof hits on the right, but it worked. Sometimes mixing up your shots like that and being able to use everybody is a good thing."
The fifth stanza was controlled by Flagstaff, much different than the rest of the match. While in the fifth the Eagles held the Bradshaw offense to just two kills, it took some time for the Eagles return game to figure out the Bears attack.
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The Bears took the first set, using some well-placed tips to set a tone for the match. Flagstaff and Bradshaw kept close the entire opening set, with neither team leading by more than four points. The Bears came out with the win in the opener after dropping a kill in open space and then rolling an ace off the top of the net.
Flagstaff took advantage of 11 hitting errors by the Bears in the second to coast to the second-set win as the started Eagles began to figure out the Bradshaw attack.
"They did a good job stepping into the block and working hard to be there with the hits, and they finally picked up the tips," Haglin said. "We work on this all the time. I think what was happening was we were getting stuck behind the block, so we weren't seeing it. Once we stepped out, then they were able to pick them up."
The Eagles played from behind much of the third, facing a deficit at 22-19 late in the stanza. A kill by Nez got the Eagles rolling to close the set on a 6-1 run that included three kills by the sophomore.
With a chance to end it, the Eagles struggled to put away the Bears in the fourth, falling behind late in the set again. The Bears took advantage of a Flagstaff hitting error and two setting errors called on the Eagles to take the game.
A number of Eagles had notable stat lines, including Devynn Hatathlie getting 21 assists and eight digs for Flagstaff, Paetyn Nakai providing 37 digs from her libero spot, Williams playing well in the middle with seven total blocks and Bridget Bond adding 14 assists, seven digs and three kills in the win.
The Eagles will travel to the Valley Thursday to face 4A Cactus (3-4) at 6 p.m. at Cactus High School.