Estrella Foothills storms back to push defending champs to brink

Wolves end best season as 4A runners up


GILBERT - The first hour or so of the 4A girls volleyball final felt more like a coronation more than a competition.

Defending champion Greenway blitzed Estrella Foothills — a program that was not even in the playoffs two years ago and never even played a state semifinal until Saturday — 25-10 and 25-19. The Wolves never even led in the match until it fought off three match points.

Yet less than an hour after #4 Greenway looked certain to repeat, the Demons had to pick themselvesup off the floor. #2 Estrella Foothills thrilled its bleacher full of fans at Highland High School by storming back to win the third and fourth sets 27-25 and 25-18.

"I told them enjoy the moment. You don't know when you're going to get this again. It's nice to have that support. I think we showed them what we've got and we're a school to be respected," Estrella Foothills coach Jennifer Gonzales said.

Greenway (30-9-2) regained its confidence before the fifth set and got back to feeding star sophomore outside hitter Tatum Parrot. SHe hit four of her match-high 25 kills and clinched the 15-9 victory and second straight championship by serving an ace.

As she was on many nights for the Demons, Parrot proved the difference in the state final.

"Last year she was our freshman and we had another outside and our defense was really good, so we pulled her out of the back row. I told her at the beginning of this year, 'Tatum, I'm going to be so hard on you.' She has grown as a player, probably more than any other player I've ever seen. She's picking up ball on defense and swinging for angles, not just swinging at the same place every time," Greenway coach Sarah Peterson said.

Parrot gave Estrella Foothills (32-4) its "welcome to state" moment with eight first set kills.

The new team on the scene settled down in the second set, but still served into the net several times and made a few simple communication errors.

"We needed to slow things down a little bit or it was going to get out of hand. All you can do is take it one or two points at a time. #3 (Parrott) is going to get her kills but she's going to be in the back row eventually," Gonzales said.

It looked like an early night as the Demons grabbed a 5-1 third-set lead. But the underdog second seed started to play like it had in winning the third and fourth set of its Nov. 7 semifinal against Chandler Seton Catholic and in sweeping Flagstaff Saturday.

Sophomore outside hitters Emma Barber and Alice Mancilla each had three kills as the Wolves fought back to tie it at 13.

"They're a young team and I think they found out, 'Hey, we can do this.' They started playing with confidence and swinging harder. At the beginning, they were soft tipping and timid. They started realizing they wanted it and they were a great team," Peterson said.

The teams battled back and forth until it was tied at 16, then Greenway went on a four-point run. Two more Mancilla kills and a tip by senior middle blocker Makayla Hurles drew Estrella Foothills within 23-21.

Tatum Parrot's older sister Grace hit a kill to give Greenway match point at 24-21. But then Mancilla's older sister, Nayeli, controlled the Wolves' offense as a setter.

Hurles, Barber and Hurles again scored to tie it at 24. Estrella Foothills picked up its first set point next and thought hit had won 26-24 until a call was reversed.

Gonzales' team regrouped with a time out and put the set away on Hurles' block and Barber's kill. With seemingly half of Estrella Mountain Ranch there, the stands erupted.

"Makayla is always the energy on the court. Nayeli became so much more vocal and determined out there. And Emma started throwing herself all over the court," Gonzales said. "I also though we came together as a team. We're not going to start pointing fingers because that's not what got us to this point."

Suddenly the Wolves brimmed with confidence and the 4A finals veterans were unsure of themselves.

"We could  have easily fallen off too, because we could have easily fallen off after losing the third set 27-25. It was a great match," Peterson said.

In the fourth set, Greenway found itself battling back to tie four times. But leading 17-15, the Wolves began to pull away.

Mancilla hit three more kills in the final seven points. Then junior Jensyn Wray served out the set with an ace that hit the net, and fell almost straight down on the Demons' side.

The fairy tale seemed to be coming tue. It did not but the new team on the block had much to celebrate.

"This is historical. I told them to be grateful for what you've accomplished. If you can leave it all on the court and walk away from this match okay with yourself than that's all we can ask. And I think we left it all on the court tonight," Gonzales said.

Hurles and fellow seniors Aniya Mitchell, Alliston Potter and Nadia Trinidad helped Gonzales turn the program from .500 to a state runner up, despite Estrella Foothills moving up to 4A in 2016, their freshman year.

They led the team to the quarterfinals — against Greenway — last year. And this year they set a tone for a team that rewrote the school record book.

"They bring so much to the gym every day — the energy, the determination and hard work. They never once complained about coming to practice," Gonzales said.

While the team will need to figure out two new middle blockers, Barber and Alice Mancilla are coming into their own as attackers and Nayeli Mancilla developed into an ace setter.

That trio also ranked 2-4 on the team in digs behind Trinidad.

"They've got a taste of the good life, if you want to say it. They'll be just as determined to get back. They know that working in open gym during the summer is what's going to get you here. This is the reward," Gonzales said.

Even if the title was old hat for Greenway — its third since 2015 — it was clear this one meant more to the program, and not only because of the difficulty.

Peterson's father, Mark Comfort, was diagnosed with a rare disease just after the start of the season and died in late October.

"We have ribbons that say MC on it (for Mark Comfort) with a big heart. They have really rallied around each other and around me this season. We fought hard and said this season is for him. That was our cheer every time out. And we finally played as a team again, after we let go for those two sets," Peterson said.