After sweeping Leading Edge Academy at home in the 2A Conference play-in match on Tuesday, the ninth-seeded Northland Prep Spartans volleyball team has a tough test ahead of them in the first round of the state tournament.
The Spartans will take on the No. 8-seeded Valley Lutheran Flames, a Central Region rival, at Arcadia High School Friday at 3 p.m. in Phoenix. The Flames are a team the Spartans have struggled with this season, dropping both regular-season matches by scores of 3-0 and 3-1. In the final AIA power rankings, however, the Spartans landed about three points behind the Flames.
The Spartans kept four of the total six set losses to the Flames close, all within five points. In the Spartans' 3-0 loss at home, they were within five points in all three games.
Despite the losses to the Flames this season, Spartans head coach Lacey Ebersole said there is a way her team can pull out a win in the nine-versus-eight matchup.
"We just need to go and play our game and get the energy right," she said. "You know, we need to pass well and make sure our hitters are on and just be able to read, especially with a hitter like Valley Lutheran has on the outside. She's a smart hitter. I think if we can keep them out of system we'll have a better shot."
Ebersole added that while their team doesn't rely on one star, they have the all-around talent to have a chance to make noise in the state tournament.
The Spartans defense will need to find a way to contain the 2018 Central Region Offensive Player of the Year, Valley Lutheran outside hitter Alena Haro-Orlando, whose 289 kills on the year has her at eighth in the 2A and at the top of the region. She also has done damage at the service line with 57 aces, good for third in the region.
In the Flames' first match against the Spartans Sept. 13, Haro-Orlando had a team-high 20 kills on .267 hitting in a four-set win. In the Flames' straight-set win Oct. 9, she had 15 kills on .500 hitting.
"Alena is a great player, but I feel like our team has improved a lot since we played them last," Ebersole said. "We're reading hitters a lot better. ... She's a great player and has definitely taken that team on her back, but I think we can compete with them."
Northland Prep is riding the momentum of a four-game, four-sweep win streak while Valley Lutheran has dropped two straight to the top two teams in the Central Region in Glendale Prep and Scottsdale Prep.
The Spartans have reached postseason play in each of the past six years, with 2012 being the last time they did not qualify, and have advanced from the play-in round two out of three times.
Friday's first-round match is set for 3 p.m. at Arcadia High School.