Of the 131 combined serves in Thursday night’s 4A volleyball state quarterfinal match at Deer Valley High School, there were three that shook the gym the most.
While the 1-seeded host Skyhawks and 9-seed St. Mary’s Knights traded blows throughout two close games, Deer Valley made its move in the third.
Consecutive booming kills from senior Kaitlin Brown (from the left side), sophomore Elizabeth Rupp (center) and junior Bailey Fuches (right side) ignited the home crowd, widened the Game 3 gap to 14-7, and, more than anything, emphatically signaled that this would be Deer Valley’s night, again.
The Game 3 win, 25-15, was their biggest of night’s three-game sweep, and the Skyhawks used 25-18 and 25-23 wins in the first two to punch their ticket to Saturday’s 4A Final Four appearance.
It is the Skyhawks' first semifinal berth since 2008. And the program’s first girls’ volleyball state championship is tantalizingly within reach.
“They really wanted it. They really wanted it,” Deer Valley head coach Jackie Wallace said after the Thursday night clincher.
The win, the Skyhawks’ ninth straight, runs their record to 34-8 and sets up a semifinal meeting with 4-seed Greenway. First serve is at 6 p.m. Saturday again on Deer Valley’s home floor.
On the other side of the bracket, 2-seed Goodyear Estrella Foothills will host 3-seed Flagstaff, also on Saturday night.
The 4A state championship takes place Nov. 13 at Gilbert Highland High School.
Deer Valley was in total control during Thursday’s match opener. The Skyhawks never trailed, and found their spark when junior outside hitter Maleah Reynolds drilled a kill from the left side with an additional “come on!” that ignited the post-point huddle.
The Skyhawks stretched their lead to 10 at one point before capturing the seven-point win.
St. Mary’s made an early statement in the second, scoring the game’s first three points and leading 7-6 early on. But a 10-2 Deer Valley run later tilted the floor the other way.
The Knights weren’t going down without a fight, though.
In the midst of the most successful season in program history, St. Mary’s (27-6 overall) clawed back to knot things up at 17-17 late. It wouldn’t be enough, though, as a Reynolds spike ended matters in a two-point win for Deer Valley.
It was more of the same in Game 3. The Skyhawks never trailed, and took control for good with those back-to-back-to-back kills from every point of the net.
“Our serving was key,” Wallace said. “We were keeping our serves tough and deep, and they were having trouble passing.”
The season drew to a close for St. Mary’s, but not before a round 1 road win over 8-seed Arcadia in four games.
“We’re the furthest that any volleyball team at St. Mary’s has ever gone,” said Knights head coach September Lopez, the 4A Skyline Region Coach of the Year. “We were 5-17, 4-and something else, playoffs last year, got eliminated in the first round. We made it to the second round this year and have the Region Player of the Year (senior Karla Ramirez).”
Deer Valley will play its home finale in this Saturday night’s semifinal. The Skyhawks are 12-0 on their home floor in 2019, where they’ve lost only four games overall, and none since Oct. 2, when they needed four games to beat the same Flagstaff team at work on the state semifinal bracket’s other side.
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