The Mountain View Lions boys volleyball team learned an imperative lesson during a postseason loss last spring.
The Lions, who swept longtime power Sahuaro last Thursday night to improve to 11-2 this season, are gunning for a fourth-consecutive playoff berth. They’re on track to do just that, thanks to a veteran front line of Elijah Elmer, Tanner Harline and Darean Schug—who have been the backbone of the team’s attack.
All three excelled against the Cougars, with Elmer leading the team in kills (16), while also blocking three shots in the match.
The team’s fast start this spring is no surprise to fourth-year coach Lindsey Spivey, who led the Lions to a 29-6 record a year ago.
That team, which was ranked No. 1 overall in their division multiple times, fell in the first round of the 5A playoffs to Glendale’s Kellis High School.
That four-set defeat set the tone for this year’s class of seniors, who found an extra boost of motivation from the premature end to their season.
Spivey said this year’s team set a series of lofty goals during the offseason, with a section title and deep playoff run heading the list.
She’s confident the team’s done what it needs to do just that this season, with the squad’s two defeats coming in tournament play.
“These boys, they set goals and they meet them,” Spivey said. “And almost all of their team goals are to make it to state, and to make it far in state. So, they know what they want, they know what it takes to get there. They just have to do it.”
Elmer said the team learned a lot from their postseason exit a year ago, with the frontline vowing the do whatever it takes to overpower their opponents this spring.
The unit did just that Thursday, dominating the Cougars, 25-16, in the first set. The squad’s second set was a roller coaster, with Sahuaro dominating most of the stanza. The Lions wouldn’t be denied, however, storming back from a 17-10 deficit to win the set, 25-22.
Elmer believes the team’s ability to fight through adversity in that second set shows what they’re capable of going forward.
“We’re a team that can fight and we’re a team that is a competitor because we didn’t roll over,” Elmer said. “Most teams, when that happens, they let that set go. Then they just fight back into four … It just really shows our will. How we want to fight and how strong we are as a team.”
Elmer and his teammates recovered gracefully in the night’s third set, cruising to a 25-18 victory that clinched their second-consecutive win.
Spivey is hopeful that the team’s ability to rebound against a talented Sahuaro squad is emblematic of what they’re capable of going forward.
She is confident that this year’s cast of players has the right mixture of talent and on-court camaraderie to make a deep playoff run, spurning a reputation few would embrace.
“So, they’re starting to call it the ‘Mountain View curse’, because we make it to state, and then we don’t make it any further,” Spivey said. “So, it’s time to break that curse.”
Seniors, like Schug, say this year’s team has an extra shot of confidence thanks to the work that Spivey puts in during practice.
“I just love her attitude,” Schug said. “She just really brings us together as a family. She’s not like these other coaches. She really knows how to explain everything. She really gets in our heads. Pulls us aside if we need to learn a different way.”
For now, the team’s senior core is focused on doing whatever it takes to qualify for the postseason.
What happens after that is out of their control, according to Harline, who is third on the team in kills per game (5.1), and second in hit percentage (.342).
“[This win] means a lot because we’re here trying to go to state this year,” Harline said. “It’s our last year and we’re trying to end it on a good end.”
One way to take that next step as a program, according to Spivey, is an ability to show grit and determination when the going gets tough.
She’s confident her team did just that against Sahuaro, with the team’s come-from-behind second set win serving as their magnum opus.
“A game like that, I think not only builds skill, but it builds character,” Spivey said. “It forces them to be motivated, determined, persevere, and just want it more. I think in that game, they did, and they were able to pull it out performance-wise. But they had to be strong mentally too, because that was not easy to come back after all those deficits.”
Part of that mental toughness comes from having a tour de force near the net, with Elmer and several of his teammates filling that role to perfection.
Elmer believes the team’s hard-hitting, precision attack is capable of striking fear in the hearts and minds of opponents when its clicking.
He believes Thursday’s straight-set sweep is a sign of what the team can achieve, serving as a blueprint as the section schedule advances.
“Our frontline I think, when we put up a block, and we’re all in sync, there’s no one that will stop us in the state because that front line is just lethal,” Elmer said.