Hopefully, the bus transporting the Miami High School girls’ volleyball team was a comfortable one.
The Vandals traveled more than 200 miles — more than three and a half hours roundtrip — to Pusch Ridge Christian Academy on Thursday.
Yet it took about an hour for the Lady Lions to dishearten the 2A South division by beating second-place Miami (8-3) in three straight games.
“We’ve done a lot of hard work, have a lot of heart, and we really want to win,” said Lions head coach Layne Carey.
Winning has not been a problem for Pusch Ridge this season.
The Lions, 10-0 and ranked second by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, remain the only undefeated team in their league, one of seven unbeatens statewide.
Despite the unsullied record, the Lions did have some vulnerable moments against a young, but talented, Vandals team.
In the first game, it appeared Pusch Ridge had things wrapped up, serving with an 18-20 lead.
But freshman Katie Moreno’s strong defensive effort and some big hits by sophomore Jacalyn Joseph led the Vandals to a five-point swing, giving them the lead 23-20.
Those were the last Vandal points of the first game, however.
The Lions fought back to win 25-23, as junior Cheyene Link spiked the ball home for the final point.
In the second game, Pusch Ridge jumped out to a 10-3 lead, quickly eclipsed by an on-fire Miami offense led by Moreno’s serving skills.
Miami took the lead 22-21, but scored only one more point as Pusch Ridge’s senior-sophomore defensive duo of Hannah McLeod and Quincy Cooper stifled the offensive surge, giving the Lions another 25-23 victory.
By game three, the squads were tied nine times before back-to-back kills by McLeod gave Pusch Ridge an offensive lift.
Link followed with a big spike for the sweep, 26-24.
“We really come together when we face adversity,” said McLeod, of the hard-fought competition.
Carey was happy with the win, but said her squad needed to improve in some key areas before the post-season.
“We could have been much better on defense,” said Carey. “Nothing matters much when you get to the (state) tournament.”
Last year, the Lions were ranked fifth statewide heading into the playoffs, but lost in the first round.
Carey offered a unique solution to avoid a repeat of the early exit.
“Ankle braces,” she said, with a grin.
“We are all wearing them; last year we had three starters go down in the last three weeks of the season, that is not going to happen this year,” she explained.
Undefeated regular seasons aren’t at the front of Carey’s mind.
But Pusch Ridge’s upcoming opponents have a 17-29 combined record.
Only San Manuel has a winning slate, giving the Lions an excellent chance to finish unscathed — something Hannah McLeod would like to see happen.
“(Being undefeated) is a great accomplishment, and it gives us great motivation to keep playing this way,” McLeod said.