Pushing the top team in the 4A Conference to a deciding fifth set on Wednesday, the sixth-ranked Flagstaff Eagles couldn't overcome the Cactus Shadows Falcons' heavy hitting when it counted most.
After taking the opener 25-21, Flagstaff stumbled in the second set on the way to a 25-12 loss, but answered with its own dominant game in the next frame, 25-15. But the Eagles struggled to contain the Falcons offense as Cactus Shadows took the fourth stanza 25-14 before ending it with a 15-3 finale in Flagstaff's first fifth set of the season.
"I felt like we were not watching the right things tonight, but these are all things that can be fixed," said Eagles head coach Beth Haglin. "We got to take this hit and move on and learn from it."
Lydia Miller recorded a team-high 14 kills, and Theresa Palacios and Tara Brain combined for 13 blocks for the Eagles, who saw a five-match winning streak, during which the team did not drop a set, come to an end. The loss moved Flagstaff's record to 9-3 overall, but did not affect their perfect Grand Canyon Region record of 7-0.
Cactus Shadows, which went into last season's state tournament as the No. 1-ranked team but was upset in the quarterfinals by a sixth seed, showed for the second time this season it can go the distance thanks to its three attackers. The Falcons defeated the current No. 2 team in the conference, the 4A Cactus Cobras, 3-2 at home toward the end of September. This time, the Falcons won a wire-to-wire match on the road at Flagstaff.
Flagstaff faced Cactus early in the season and suffered a sweep just nine days after dropping an away match against seventh-ranked 4A Seton Catholic in three sets. Haglin said she was impressed with her team's improvement in taking on a current top-10 team.
"The biggest thing for us to do is learn, move forward and not let it set us backward," Haglin said.
Brooklyn Quick tallied 24 assists for the Eagles, who stormed back from a 5-1 deficit in the first set thanks to a 7-0 run, well-timed blocks and clean serving. During the surge, Palacios stuffed a setter dump attempt, combined with Madeline Wilson for a block and helped the Eagles force the Falcons into hitting errors on the way to taking a 12-9 lead they would not relinquish.
The Falcons had four service errors in the first set, while the Eagles ended the opener with none.
Flagstaff's defense slowed down in the third set, as Cactus Shadows' leading hitter, freshman Kierslynn Wright, started tooling the block. Kierslynn and fellow hitters Lilia Cristante and Kennedy Wright all entered the night with 150 or more kills so far this season.
"The biggest thing is, we were getting a lot of touches on the blocks, so it tells me we were in the right places, but we just were not executing the block well," Haglin said.
It was the final non-region match on the regular-season slate for the Eagles, and they wanted to show they could hang around with the best. After the second set, Madeline Wilson and Taylor White started getting more swings, and the change in rotation worked. White killed a ball down the right-side line, sparking an early 7-0 run that put Flagstaff ahead 8-3.
Wilson ended her night with six kills, with White just behind her with five. Quick's assists helped lead another third-set 7-0 run, during which the setter put down a service ace. Palacios notched seven blocks, with Brain putting up six.
"Everyone on this team has potential to do amazing things, and we are all on this team for a reason. We can all put the ball down, so when people come out and do well, it's great, and they definitely worked for it," Quick said of Wilson and White.
Jumping out to a 9-2 lead before a service error put the ball back into Flagstaff's hands, the Falcons controlled the final frame.
Hutton Hagerman collected 16 digs, Miller had five blocks and Quick added five kills for the Eagles, who will look to use the experience from the loss to try to garner a region title after just missing it last year to Prescott.
Flagstaff will compete in the Lion's Den Invitational this weekend and will pick up the region slate with a home match against Mohave next Tuesday.