The Northland Prep girls soccer team utilized a dominant six-goal first half to take its fifth straight win, 6-0, over the Page Sand Devils at Sinagua Middle School on Tuesday.
In the Senior Night game and regular-season finale, the Spartans set the tone right off the horn with a goal just 20 seconds into the match -- needing only three touches before Ellie Karren knocked in the first score of her hat trick.
Seniors Eleni Papas and Regan Egar each scored a goal in the first half of the win, in which all five of Northland Prep’s seniors played the entirety.
“We did what we needed to do in the first half and let the seniors play the entire game, and it was a nice send-off for them,” Spartans co-head coach Keith Hovis said. “When you get up that fast it’s hard to work on stuff that we’ve been working on, but it’s happened in the past two games.”
The Spartans held firm control at the end of the opening half while playing at near full strength, with just Delaney Donahoe and goalkeeper Payten Schmidt sidelined.
Now a week back from her ACL injury, sophomore midfielder Mia Blair played in her first home game of the season. With her back, the Spartans offense is at a different level than it had been all season, just in time for the 2A Conference playoffs starting next week.
“I think with people coming in and out and all our injuries and everything else, I think we finally have figured it out,” Hovis said. “We got our rotations and we have our subs right.”
The sophomore standout finished the day with four shots and had a few passes leading to shots for her teammates that did not find the goal. But her presence in the middle as a facilitator changed the offense into what the coaching staff knows that team is capable of being.
Mia pulls the defense into the middle of the field, drawing consistent attention that allows her attackers to free up for goal chances. It's a major reason why she was the conference player of the year last season.
“We’ve been trying to build up her time a little more but also be smart about it,” Spartans co-head coach Michael Blair said. “I think she is being smart, staying out of dangerous situations right now.”
“The confidence level of the team went way up when we got her back and we’re playing more our style of play,” he added.
Mia echoed her coach, saying she is still a bit apprehensive when attacking without possession but that she thinks she will be more confident once the postseason starts.
“I feel pretty good when I have the ball and I’m on the attack,” Mia said. “But when they have the ball I try to stay out of 50/50s and, like, stupid situations.”
Mia played in the Spartans' previous two games, registering two goals and three assists for seven points as she is reacclimating herself to playing again.
The win places the Spartans at 11-1 overall and 3-1 in the Central Region. Although Northland Prep will likely finish No. 2 in the AIA power rankings, because it did not win the region, the team will host a play-in game against the No. 6 seed as the No. 3 seed.
Based on the current standings and results, the Spartans will likely host Snowflake (5-5-1, 2-2-1 East Region) on Tuesday. The Spartans beat Snowflake 9-0 Sept. 18 at Sinagua.
The extra game comes as a nice surprise for the Spartans.
“I’m actually glad we’re playing in that game, so it’s kind of a blessing in disguise getting that play-in game because with Mia back we need one more to round things off and we’re getting there,” Michael said.
The winner of Northland Prep and Snowflake will advance to face No. 2- seeded Round Valley in the semifinals Friday, Oct. 26, at Campo Verde High School at 3 p.m. in Gilbert.
Time and location for the play-in game on Tuesday is to be determined.
EAGLES 3, BADGERS 1
Flagstaff girls volleyball dropped just one set in a 25-20, 19-25, 25-13, 25-17 road win over 4A Grand Canyon Region opponent Prescott Thursday night in Prescott.
The second-set loss was the first time the Eagles had dropped a set to a region team this season. The Eagles improve to 16-1 overall and 11-0 in the region with just one game remaining in the regular season.
No. 4 Flagstaff will take on the Coconino Panthers Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the War Memorial Gymnasium.
SPARTANS 3, FALCONS 0
The Northland Prep girls volleyball team won in straight sets on the road at 2A Central opponent North Pointe Thursday night, 25-12, 25-16, 25-17.
The No. 10-ranked Spartans improve to 9-7 overall and 5-5 in the Central Region with two games remaining on the regular-season slate.