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Allison Birtcil has the weight of legacy on her shoulders. She and fellow senior, Isabella Lang, both have older sisters who were part of the powerful 2018 Ironwood Ridge High volleyball team that was perhaps the best in Southern Arizona. As often happens with outstanding athletic programs, maintaining a level of excellence can sometimes be more difficult than achieving the excellence in the first place.

The 5’-9” right-side hitter is the team captain and leads the squad in just about every statistical category. “We’re struggling a little bit this year,” she says. “We’ve had some tough games and some really tough losses.”

The Nighthawks started out 1-5, perhaps the worst start in school history. But they have since righted the ship, going 6-1 in the past seven games, moving up sharply in the AIA Power Points in the process. They were ranked 17th this past week, which would put them safely among the 24 teams that will make it to the state tournament, but they want more.

“What really hurt is that we lost to Marana a couple weeks ago. It’s the first time (our school) has lost to Marana in a long, long time.” (Marana, at 10-4, is currently ranked 10th in the state.)

Allison’s older sister, Katie, was a team captain on the 2018 squad and was named Region Player of the Year. She also led her team to back-to-back conference championships. She is now an outside hitter on the New Mexico State that is 13-4 and challenging for a league title.

“Obviously, I don’t get to go over (to Las Cruces) very often during our season to watch her play, but I got to go up to Phoenix last weekend to see her play at Grand Canyon.”

She and her teammates may not use the word “pressure” to describe what they feel, but there are certainly high expectations at Ironwood Ridge, where Coach Bill Lang has built a monster program, one that is perennially at or near the top of the volleyball heap year in and year out.

At press time, Allison was really looking forward to this week’s tough schedule. The Nighthawks played at Catalina Foothills last night and tomorrow they have the rematch with Marana.

“We lost to them at Marana, but we really believe that we can beat them (at home).”

Allison is an outstanding student, pulling all A’s. Her favorite class is English and she prefers reading to writing. (The answer to the “favorite class” questions should always be math, but she stuck with English. Some kids, y’know.)

She also plays beach volleyball in the spring. When asked which she prefers, she answered, “Indoors. There’s more of a team thing in regular volleyball. I really like having a lot of teammates and having us all work together for a goal.”

She’ll have a new set of teammates next year when she goes to Yavapai College in Prescott. “It’s going to be cold up there, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

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