The high school volleyball season came to an unexpectedly abrupt end for a trio of local programs last week when Ironwood Ridge and Marana lost their opening round matches and Pusch Ridge lost in the 3A play-in round.
The two 5A programs fell to Centennial and Notre Dame Prep, respectively. Marana fell to the latter in five sets, while the Tigers fell to the Saints in four sets.
Marana coach Jenifer Ball praised her team’s ability to push the fourth-seeded Coyotes of Centennial in their first-round match last Tuesday, Nov. 5.
“Our girls left everything on the floor, they gave it all,” Ball said. “We had a couple of missed opportunities and missed calls and that match would have been ours. We never gave up in the face of an outstanding team. I was so proud of their efforts and their support of each other.”
The Tigers stormed back in their playoff match after losing the first two sets, 25-18, 25-23—capturing the next two, 25-23, 28-26.
The fifth and final set went the Coyotes’ way, 15-12, ending one of the more successful seasons for the Tigers in some time.
Ball expressed great pride in the way her players fought, even in defeat, with the 13th-seeded team giving the favorites from Peoria all they could handle.
“My seniors had been working for four years for this season,” Ball said. “Although we fell short of our goal, these girls established Marana Volleyball and the younger girls can’t wait to carry on what they have created.”
Veteran Ironwood Ridge coach Bill Lang’s team found a similar fate when the seventh-seeded Nighthawks fell to 10th seed Notre Dame Prep, 24-26, 22-25, 25-20, 16-25.
Lang expressed remorse in his team’s early exit but praised his players for their ability to keep fighting against the Saints on a night where little went their way on the court.
“We’re proud of the effort and grit of the players,” he said. “It’s just hard to win in the 5A tournament when you don’t do a good job from the service line or serve reception. Missing 21 serves is not going to win against a good team.”
Lang thanked his players for their ability to thrive under pressure this season, earning a top-eight seed in the ultra-competitive 5A playoffs. He’s sad the team’s run has come to an end but believes the team will be in better position to make a deeper run next year, given the experience they’ve gained this fall.
“I’m proud of the team and the season,” Lang said. “We played a tough schedule and worked hard every match. The expectations are high here and we put ourselves in a situation to win every night, but we still have to play a more complete schedule each year to get comfortable playing in high level matches where serving and siding out is critical.”
The 2019 season will resonate with Ball given how hard her group of seniors fought to get the team to the state playoffs. She’s sure the program will continue its upward trend thanks to the groundwork put in by this year’s veteran-led team.
“Our chemistry this year was phenomenal,” Ball said. “These girls were so good to each other and took care of each other. They love volleyball. They love being in the gym and competing. They loved to be challenged. It was a joy to coach this team this season.”
Lang said his team’s seniors pushed the team to new heights, regardless of how the team fared in the postseason.
“This team is special,” he said. “I would rank them as one of the top five varsity teams that we’ve had here at Ironwood Ridge over the past 18 years. They work hard, accept the challenges and expectations of playing at Ironwood Ridge.”
Elsewhere in Southern Arizona, the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Lions fell in their 3A playoff match to 11th seed, Monument Valley, in straight sets, 21-25, 12-25, 14-25.