FLAGSTAFF - The Cactus Cobras made their way north to take on the Flagstaff High Eagles in the first round of the 4A state playoffs.
The favored Eagles defeated the Cobras in three sets after a night of back-and-forth play Nov. 6.
“Our goal this year was to get better and make playoffs. We did both,” Cactus head coach Anthony Puglisi said.
The hardwood surrounded by unfamiliar fans and students, set number one took off quickly. Cobras senior setter Daphne Dugan started on the back line for a few serves.
With the support of her front line, the Cobras went on a 3-0 run that was ended by an attack error from freshman middle blocker Amanda Lauer.
Consistent back-and-forth rallies took the score 20-16 when the Cobras called a timeout. Out of the break, junior right side hitter Kaeleigh Gibson laid down multiple kills to carry the score 22-20 with the Eagles up. Unable to execute a comeback, the Cobras fell 25-21.
Gibson slowed down for no one in the second set. Her angle shots went through the arms of the defense and were too sharp for the back row to get under for a pass.
A theme appeared when Flagstaff and Cactus went kill for kill, making both teams go through full rotations.
For the first time all match, the Cobras tore away with the lead 17-16. Struggling to return the ball, Cactus lost the short lived lead from an Eagle 3-point run, 19-16.
On set point sophomore outside hitter Aaliyah Ivey and Gibson tried to do what they know best — block. As they went up both got a solid touch but the ball fell on their side of the net.
The teams went into the third set with Flagstaff leading 2-0 in sets.
The Cactus offense began to slip up by sending long shots out of bounds. Flagstaff’s front line took advantage of the lull and tore away with the lead 17-12.
In efforts to lessen the gap, senior outside hitter Olivia Lee played the court smart and sent rollers and tips in the donut that had Flagstaff scrambling.
Cactus’ defense kept Grand Canyon Region’s Offensive Player of the Year, sophomore Gracelyn Nez, quiet through the match. The Cobras totaled six blocks in the game, three in the first set alone, forcing Nez to tip behind Cobra blockers to get a ball returned.
“They had a good solid block formation set up against Gracelyn but when they were keyed in on her our other players stepped up,” Flagstaff head coach Beth Haglin said.
Despite trying to complete an underdog story, Cactus fell 25-17 to end their season in three sets.
Flagstaff advanced to play Bradshaw Mountain in the quarterfinals Thursday.
With this loss, the Cobras concluded their final match of the season, bringing their overall record 11-15.
“Next season I think we’re going to be a lot better just because we have that chemistry on the team now and our young players won’t be so timid after tonight,” Gibson said.