One of Flagstaff's biggest assets this season has never stepped within the lines.
Supported by a spirited student section, the Eagles volleyball team is heading into the 4A Conference state tourney as the No. 4 seed Tuesday and with home-court advantage for at least one match.
The student section has found ways to put smiles on the Flagstaff players and fans while getting under the skin of opposing teams. The group sings songs such as "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and the "ABCs," normally sounding out when the away team is at a disadvantage on the scoreboard and trying to figure things out in a timeout.
"I think there is a lot to say about not having to travel and our home gym is intimidating. The fans are just stellar, they are supportive and can be intimidating. There a lot of schools that are not used to that kind of a crowd," said Eagles head coach Beth Haglin on Saturday.
Flagstaff hosts No. 13 St. Mary's for a first-round match and unlike last season has the chance to play a quarterfinal match at home as well. Haglin's happy about avoiding the trips, and all that extra activities that go with them.
"I think there's something to be said about routine," she said.
The Eagles were the No. 5 seed last year, one spot shy of holding a high seed for the next round, and they fell in the quarterfinals, 3-1, to No. 4 Sunrise Mountain, which ended up losing in the finals to Seton Catholic.
Flagstaff went 14-3 in the regular season in 2017, and the juniors who led the team a year ago helped the team finish 17-1 this season. The only loss came to No. 1-seeded Greenway.
Should the Eagles advance, they will host either No. 5 Canyon Del Oro or 12th-seeded Desert Edge on Thursday. There aren't many excuses to miss the opening-round match, because unlike last year, there is no World Series Game 6 taking place at the same time and the first round didn't fall on Halloween night.
Flagstaff fans have had a lot to cheer about this season, especially their freshman outside hitter, who can terminate the ball with force and accuracy when the offense is in rhythm. Gracelyn Nez led the Eagles and the conference in total kills with 363, averaging 3.7 per set on a .244 hitting percentage. Overall, the Eagles had a 31-6 record when including tournament results from outside the regular-season slate.
Nez has been the exclamation point on a team that plays soundly in all facets of the game. Tara Brain enters Tuesday third in the state in blocks at 180, with Madeline Wilson not far behind in fifth with 163. The blocking tandem has led the team up front, as Nez is third on the team in blocks with 27.
In the back row, senior libero Hutton Hagerman has had a stellar season for the Eagles. She is fifth in the conference with 454 digs and has just 28 errors on a team-high 544 service receptions. Behind the service line, she has 46 aces, leading a group of three players, including Brooklyn Quick and Jazzy Berr, who have 40 or more under their belts.
St. Mary's, which ended its regular season at 12-5 and breezed by Amphitheater High School in the play-in round in straight sets, is a young team led by a pair of young, dangerous attackers. Junior Karla Ramirez is hitting .242 heading into Tuesday with a team-high 291 kills, while teammate Leilani Clark, a sophomore, is hitting .262 with 242 kills, and the pair have been responsible for 75 percent of the team's kills.
The Eagles and the Knights didn't meet in the regular season, but both faced the Bradshaw Mountain Bears, who reside in the Grand Canyon Region Flagstaff. The Bears fell to the Eagles twice by 3-0 results, but they beat the Knights in five sets early in the season at St. Mary's.
The opening-round match is set for a 6:30 p.m. start.