That combination of leather and hardwood, sweat and manicures ringing throughout Northwest-area high school gyms spells volleyball season.

As several playoff-caliber squads eye championship runs, it’s now or never for Canyon Del Oro coach Melva Lundy’s 29-year career to post a state title.

Lundy plans to retire this season, after spending the last 20 years at CDO, where she led Dorado teams to a 581-222 (.723) record.

Her retirement remains relative; the coach plans to shave 12-to-14-hour days down to regular workweeks, as she continues teaching CDO physical education classes, while spending time with her husband and mother.

Still, Lundy doesn’t think downshifting merits any special attention.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the kids,” Lundy said after last week’s win against Tucson High, which bumped their season record to 2-0.

“They’re the ones that do all the hard work.”

Lundy’s laborers include senior libero Hannah Sitter, who earned school and district records in digs and saves during 2007.

Sitter admits Lundy’s departure is one motivator to cruise past last year’s 30-win season, but solid execution remains the vehicle.

“It’s about being steady as a team, bringing the same energy to every game, getting the ball passed every time to the same target, the same set every time,” Sitter said.

Three other gifted seniors — outside hitters Stephanie Ziegler (4A-I Sonoran Player of the Year) and Jenna Seger, plus 6-foot middle hitter Sarah Batterton —  head for high-school afterlife, graduating in May.

“We are going to work as hard as we can for each other,” Ziegler said. “And hopefully we can get past any challenge.”

One division and a few miles away, Ironwood Ridge head coach Bill Lang works to solve an opposite theorem: How to replace the scoring battery of five departed seniors that accounted for nearly 80 percent of last year’s Nighthawk points.

“Buckle your seatbelts,” Lang quipped. “That’s how it’s going to be.”

So far, the Nighthawks have fared well — though a few hair-raising moments, like the nearly-blown efforts of last Tuesday’s five-game win over Sunrise Mountain, remind supporters that it’s a young team.

Senior setter Malyree Harper “runs the show” now, according to Lang, after a season of short reps in the shadow of graduated Southern Arizona Player of the Year Christina Solverson.

“It’s a lot of responsibility having to step into those shoes,” Harper said. “But I’m also a senior, so I know what I need to do and how to achieve that.”

Harper’s got plenty of help, in senior Michelle Link, who Lang said could end up “the best libero in the state,” and nascent scoring machine Briana Hughes — a 6’ 2” middle blocker who racked up 21 kills last week.

Whether that exuberance can propel the Nighthawks past 2007’s 5A-II state semifinal terminus, stands to be seen.

“Wining is a byproduct,” Lang said. “We don’t even talk about it until we handle everything else.”

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