The Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks and Cienega Bobcats volleyball teams engaged in one of the most competitive straight set sweeps you’ll ever see on Tuesday night.
The hometown Nighthawks (21-15) clinched no worse than a share of the 5A Southern region title entering the night’s match, but had a shot at finishing off a perfect 10-0 region record with a win over the Bobcats.
The teams jostled back and forth for much of the night, with Ironwood Ridge taking the first set, 28-26, before doing the same in a second set that featured 10 lead changes.
The packed house at the Oro Valley high school grew into a fever pitched crescendo for the third and final set, when the two heavyweights traded blows, each side matching the other in thrilling fashion.
The ultimate set of the night went in favor of the Nighthawks, who stormed back from a 23-20 deficit to force extra points, before finally winning the final set, 31-29.
It was a fitting way for the two sides to close out the regular season, ahead of next week’s first round of the state playoffs.
Ironwood Ridge head coach Bill Lang, who’s led the program since its inception, said Tuesday’s clash with the Bobcats was one he’ll remember for a long time.
“We knew it was going to be like the playoff type match, both teams just stayed in it,” Lang said. “Cienega did a great job just keeping the ball alive and keeping the swings. For a three-set match, that was one of the more competitive ones I’ve coached. It was fun.”
The Nighthawks senior class of Katie Birtcil, Sydney Baumgardner, Sarah Semon, Courtney Ely, Kara Bartell, Cosette Lang and Sydney Taylor all saw playing time in the match.
Birtcil had a night to remember, with a game-high 25 kills, while Baumgardner led the team with four blocks and Semon had a team-best 13 digs in the Nighthawks victory.
Lang praised the senior class for their effort over the last four years, having coached and gotten to know each player for close to a decade.
“My daughter [Cosette] is on the team…that means that I've known these kids for ten years,” Lang said. “They're just a great group. And so tonight, you know, it's emotional because I can't imagine another season without them, and that's what we're going to have to do. So, I'm glad that they went out on top.”
The Nighthawks closed out their regular season with 11-straight non-tournament wins, allowing them to clinch their region. It’s been a long road to success for Lang’s team, with a series of injuries and brutally-tough games at the start of the year.
All of that adversity inspired the team to finish strong, dominating their Southern Arizona competition and clinching another playoff berth.
Lang is proud of the way his team fought through its early struggles, with Tuesday’s victory serving as a fitting coronation for a talented group of players.
“That’s what we hoped for, that we’ve evolved and that we’ve kind of, that we’ve gotten to the point where we can handle a long match and put together some rallies,” Lang said. “We can extend the rally, we can joust. We’ve evolved into a pretty nice team.”
Playoff brackets released
The girls volleyball tournament kicked off in Divisions 4A and 5A Tuesday after deadline, with 16th seed Marana playing top seed Sunnyslope, while Ironwood Ridge played Verrado and Mountain View played Millennium in 5A.
The Canyon del Oro Dorados hosted Desert Edge after deadline in the 4A first round, with Salpointe Catholic as the only other team from Southern Arizona to make the 16-team field in the division.
The 3A play-in round took place Tuesday, with 16th seed Pusch Ridge hosting 17th seed Chinle after deadline on Tuesday. The first round of the 3A tournament begins on Friday, Nov. 2, with the matches being held at Camelback High School in Phoenix. Check back next week for results.
This story has been updated since original publication.