The Northland Prep Spartans are making the most of their five-match homestand while making a push for a spot in the state tournament.
Senior Avery Thomas rattled off kills and service aces, Casey Auza had 15 assists to go with three blocks and the Spartans completed the regular-season series sweep of the Page Sand Devils, 3-0, Thursday, finishing the nonconference part of their schedule with a victory.
After beating Central Region opponent Camp Verde on Tuesday, Northland Prep moved from the No. 20 spot in the 2A Conference standings to No. 19. The victory over 3A Page, which pushed Northland Prep to five sets in the team's first meeting that opened the season, helped keep the Spartans' chances of bursting the playoff bubble alive.
For Northland Prep, winners of three of their last five, it's one match at a time.
"We are just playing, we are going game to game and we want to qualify (for the state tournament)," said Spartans head coach Lacey Ebersole, who since taking over the helm in 2014 has never missed placing her team in the playoffs.
"If we do, awesome," she added, "if not, we want to finish the season strong and do our seniors proud. Every match helps, each little win adds up and you hope that other teams might have crucial losses, but you never know. We can only control our team."
Thomas ended her night with four aces, as Page struggled with service errors throughout the night in addition to keeping their attacks within the lines in a match that was often close despite the 3-0 outcome. With the mistakes coming often at the line in their final regular-season nonconference match, the 17th-ranked Sand Devils, whose overall record fell to 6-7, struggled to get into offensive rhythm and runs.
The third-set issues the Spartans had during the season, especially when on the road for nine of their first 11 regular-season matches, seem to be getting solved.
"We've been struggling with our ups and downs but tonight we did really well with that," Auza said. "I felt like it was important (in the third set) to play as a team and keep our energy up and not let them go on runs on us."
With the second consecutive 3-0 victory, coming by scores of 25-17, 25-21, 25-17, the Spartans improved their overall regular-season record to 9-5.
Page didn't have an answer for the consistent hitting from Northland Prep's Thomas, Sofie Linskey and Rebecca Gerety, who in addition to providing strong attacks up front dug up 13 balls while working the back-left corner.
Linskey snapped a second-set tie with a kill to give the advantage to the Spartans, who held the lead most of the match. The night ended much like Tuesday's did against the Camp Verde Cowboys, with Linskey committing a hit error on her first match-point attempt but finishing it off with the ensuing swing.
"We are really working on pushing that third set, keeping our mentality straight, keeping a positive energy on the court," Ebersole said.
Midway through the second set, Northland Prep went through its own accuracy issues, but turned it around by the end of the frame, with Thomas hitting off the block to give her team the 2-0 match lead.
Defense was on display for both teams in the second set. Gerety reached out for a pancake dig early in the stanza, helping her team take an early 5-0 lead that the Sand Devils could never climb completely back from. Page also had a pancake dig during the set.
Linskey ended her night with seven digs and Northland Prep got great all-around play from its roster in the third stanza. Moreover, Thomas, Linskey and Gerety never slowed down in the final game, helping to change the narrative of the team's third-set woes.
On the way to the 25-17 victory that called it a night, the Spartans went on a 6-0 run that started on a Page service error. During the spurt, Thomas made it 15-10 with a hit off the block three points prior to stuffing a weak Page pass that hung up over the net and Auza recorded her ace. Not long before Thomas stuffed her ball, Spartans middle blocker Sophia Strube made the same play to give her team a 11-9 win.
"Our serve-receive went really well tonight," Ebersole said. "Savannah (Gaun) and Annabel (Angel) were passing really well from the backrow. I think we just had a great night."
Northland Prep -- which will close the regular season with three region matches, two of which are at home -- takes on Paradise Honors Tuesday at 6 p.m., looking to avenge a five-set loss to the Panthers in Surprise.
"The stands really help us at home games, because they help with our energy," Auza said.