It wasn't pretty by many standards, but the No. 9-seeded Northland Prep Spartans volleyball team won in straight sets over the No. 24-seeded Leading Edge Academy Spartans 25-22, 25-18, 25-17.
Both teams struggled in the 2A Conference playoff play-in match in the Northland Prep Academy gym, each racking up errors. The difference between the two was that Northland Prep found ways to capitalize off Leading Edge's mistakes and didn't let them keep any real momentum throughout Tuesday's battle.
"It definitely wasn't our cleanest game, but we played with heart and fought for every point," Spartans head coach Lacey Ebersole said. "Leading Edge played a really good game, they have a great team and definitely brought it tonight."
"I think both teams made their fair amount of mistakes and I think we just made a couple fewer," she added.
The first set was close from wire to wire, with both teams trading runs. With the set tied at 18-all, Northland Prep outscored Leading Edge 7-4 in the final 11 possessions to take the set. On five of the 11 plays Leading Edge committed errors, keeping the momentum on Northland Prep's side.
In the second stanza, Northland Prep jumped out to a 10-5 lead, taking advantage of Leading Edge miscues and connecting on five kills early. Leading Edge answered with a 5-1 run to cut the deficit to 11-10 but was outscored by Northland Prep 14-8 to close the set. A kill off the arm of Maggie Auza, assisted by Casey Auza, gave Northland Prep match point before Leading Edge committed a hitting error to end it.
Sofie Linksey, Maggie and Casey Auza were named to the Central Region All-Region Second Team -- the second straight year in which Casey has been named to the list. Holly Clark and Megan Swinney rounded out the accolades for Northland Prep, earning Central Region honorable mentions.
"I think they all have been great this season and deserve every recognition they get -- especially with our region having four teams in the top nine," Ebersole said. "They're up against stiff competition, and to be recognized like that is awesome and I'm so proud of them."
Casey finished with 23 assists, two service aces and two blocks, and her sister Maggie finished with nine kills, 14 digs and one block. Swinney led the way in the back row for Northland Prep with 26 digs.
The third set followed a similar pattern to the second, except in the third Northland Prep used an 9-1 run to take an 18-10 commanding lead. Leading Edge fought back and went point-for-point with Northland Prep but again committed late hitting and service errors to set Northland Prep up with a 24-17 advantage.
On the final play, Casey Auza found Linksey for a kill to put the match away and clinch Northland Prep's spot in the 2A Conference state tournament. Who and what time the Spartans play Friday at Arcadia High School in Phoenix is to be determined.