The No. 9-seeded Northland Prep Spartans removed a thorn from their side in the opening round of the 2A Conference state volleyball tournament on Friday before having their season come to an end in the day's next match.
The eighth-seeded Valley Lutheran Flames beat the Spartans 3-1 and 3-0 in their two regular-season meetings, but the Spartans had revenge on their mind while competing in Phoenix at Arcadia High School.
The first set was knotted at 20-20, until Northland Prep's Natalie Hansen’s serving helped the Spartans reach game point. Not willing to give in, the Flames earned a side-out to make it 24-23. The Spartans were able to control the serve and senior setter Casey Auza found Holly Clark for a kill from the middle for a 25-23 win.
With big hitting against Valley Lutheran from Sofie Linskey and Maggie Auza, as well as strong serving from Ana Nicol and Megan Swinney, the Spartans raced ahead to an 18-10 lead in the second stanza. The Flames caught fire, however, and evened the score at 20-all. The Flames had a set point at 24-23, but the Spartans were able to defend. Casey Auza had the serve at 24-all. Winning the next point, the score 25-24, Casey Auza set Linskey, who put down a cross-court kill to give her team a 2-0 match lead.
In the third and final set, the Spartans took an early and decisive lead and never looked back.
“This was a team effort,“ said Spartans head coach Lacey Ebersole. “We have multiple players that can contribute."
After Northland Prep finished off Valley Lutheran it ran into a wall just hours later. No. 1 seed Scottsdale Christian cruised, 25-11, 25-10, 25-16, past Northland Prep.
The Spartans, who will graduate four seniors, ended the 2018 season with an overall record of 13-8.
Page made a first-round state playoff game look like regular-season game No. 11 Friday night, summoning the mercy rule in a 48-2 rout of last year's state runners-up in the 3A Conference, Pusch Ridge (Tucson).
The fourth-seeded Sand Devils (10-1) may have finally put themselves on the Arizona high school football map by dominating from start to finish and winning their first postseason game in 34 years.
"We feel like we kind of beat them up front a little bit," said Sand Devils head coach Mitchell Stephens, whose teams are now 11-0 at home in two seasons. "They were a little undersized, and we've got some hosses up front. We take a lot of pride in our O-line and D-line. I'm just proud of the guys."
The Sand Devils, who had not hosted a state playoff game since 1995, will now get two of them in one year. They will meet Valley Christian (Chandler) next Friday night, in a rematch of a Sept. 14 game won by Page 22-15 at Cyclone Field. Valley Christian, the fifth seed, crushed No. 12 Coolidge 44-6.
Page's first playoff win since 1984 was sparked by senior back Kele Meredith's career-best 276 rushing yards. He scored the first time he touched the ball -- on Page's first snap -- covering 89 yards. He tacked on a 90-yarder in the second quarter on a textbook display of stiff-arms and bursts into open space.
"He works his tail off," Stephens said. "He's always in the weight room, always trying to find ways to get better."
Page's next three scores were set up by fumbles by Pusch Ridge (5-6). The 13th-seeded Lions' most critical mistake was an errant pitch that glanced off the facemask of their running back and went directly to Page linebacker Austin Green, who went 55 yards the other way. It was the Sand Devils' sixth defensive touchdown in their last five games and gave them an 18-0 lead to end the first quarter.
Quarterback Robert Smith, considered questionable with an illness, turned in a workmanlike 8-of-10 for 70 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a score. Page also celebrated the return of junior quarterback Gabe Gomez, who missed the entire 3A North Region schedule. Gomez closed the game as the clock ran freely.
Pusch Ridge had been given a good chance of staging a first-round upset but sabotaged itself early. The Lions set themselves up at the Page 11 after Meredith's opening score. But they turned it over on their first of five lost fumbles, and Page's Brandon James recovered.
The Sand Devils responded with a 12-play drive ending in Smith's one-yard TD run. Meredith topped 100 yards on his second carry of the game. The Sand Devils finished with 39 carries for 423 yards, with Pusch Ridge getting a 107-yard night from Evan Lovett.
The Lions had played in three state title games since 2015, but sustained big losses to graduation.
"That is a really good football team," Stephens said. "They're young. Obviously, we know there's a lot of tradition. They're well-coached."
The Page Sand Devils and Northland Prep Spartans boys showed off their speed at their respective section meets on Friday at the Hidden Cove Golf Course in Holbrook, with both programs taking first as a team to go along with individual titles.
Page's Bowen Martin won the Division III, Section Four 5K race in 16:12.0, and Northland Prep's Micah Stanton won the D-IV, Section Three race in 16:26.2. The Sand Devils won in dominant fashion, recording just 17 points while second-place finisher Prescott tallied 86. The Spartans also put on a statement performance, collecting 25 points to get the best of Hopi's 55.
Competing in the same section as Page, the Coconino Panthers girls, led by Woodlyn Smith's third-place finish in 19:45.1, took the bronze medal behind Page's girls score of 86. Prescott won the girls side. Sofia Bryan was the first Sand Devils runner to cross the finish line for a sixth-place result.
The Coconino boys finished eighth as a team, with Taylor Taliman the first of the Panthers to cross the finish line for 20th place.
All teams made their way to the state meet, which takes place Saturday, Nov. 10.
For the Spartans boys side, Hayden Andersen was fifth in 17:04, Brandon Bounds sixth, Nalzheii Lonetree eighth, Sailor Starcher ninth and Dana Leib-Perry 10th in 17:45. Malakai Hanson came in 22nd for the NPA boys.
The Northland Prep girls finished in fifth place as a team. Spartans freshman Abby Sperl was the first of her squad to come through, clocking a 22:41.2 for a 13th-place finish.
The Page boys had a 1-2-3 punch, as Bowen was followed by Morgan Fowler's 16:14.2 and Lance Harris's 16:43.4. Trent Holiday took fifth for Page, with Kaipo Uejo racing to sixth, Rex Martin to eighth and Skyler Sandoval ninth.
Kaelynn Ashley finished ninth for the Panthers girls, and Lilia Tassinari (18th) and Hope Saxton (24th) also ended their races in the top 25.
SWIM AND DIVE
The Flagstaff Eagles swimming and diving team was bolstered by a pair of top five finishes from divers at the D-II state prelims Friday.
Maggie Horton took fourth place with a score of 377.75 in the girls 1-meter dive while teammate Thomas Wesche took fifth with a 397.80 in the boys 1-meter.
The Eagles advanced two relay teams and three individual swimmers in three events on the girls side while the boys team had three relay teams and four individual swimmers qualify for Saturday's finals.
In the best finish of the prelims for Eagle swimmers, the boys 400-yard freestyle relay team of Sean Diehl, Jalen Rinne, Bryce Fennell and Eric Heinonen took 10th place in 3:27.33. The Eagles advanced their 200-yard freestyle and 200 medley relay teams on the boys side to the final round.
The Eagles had three boys swimmers advance in the 200-yard freestyle in Heinonen at 13th, Diehl at 16th and Fennell at 23rd. Heinonen and Fennell also took 16th and 28th in the 500 freestyle. Diehl placed 14th in the 100 free and Rinne took 29th in the 200 individual medley.
The Eagles girls relay team of Zia Kypta-Keith, Pearl Himelick, Zinnia Cooperrider and Meadow Higgins took 13th in the 200 medley. Himelick added a 21st-place finish in the 200 IM while teammates Higgis and Kypta-Keith took 16th and 14th in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke respectively. The final Eagles relay team to qualify was the girls 200 freestyle, which placed 15th.
Basis swimmer Abigael Conn qualified for two individual D-III finals, finishing the girls 200 freestyle in 2:05.16 and the 500 freestyle in 5:31.93. Maille Conn will be an alternate in the 500 freestyle after her 5:55.26 finish. Basis also advanced relay teams in the girls 200 medley, 200 freestyle and the 400 freestyle.
Northland Prep had a solid showing in the D-III prelims and advanced four individual swimmers and a boys relay team in the 400 freestyle relay. Jillian Raab advanced in the girls 200 freestyle and 50 freestyle with times of 2:12.24 and 5:53.79 respectively. Sam Prusacki swam the 200 IM in 2:15.87 and the 100 breaststroke in 1:08.03, advancing in both. Kyle Openshaw and Austin Kwan also advanced: Openshaw finished the 100 free in 53.61 and Kwan clocked a 1:02.03 in the 100 backstroke.
Both the D-II and D-III finals will take place throughout the afternoon Saturday.