During a dominant second set Oct. 29, the young Cactus girls volleyball showed what it could be.
Estrella Foothills then spent the next two sets reminding its opponent, and itself, what it is - a 4A contender for the second straight year.
Junior outside hitter Emma Barber (12 kills, 7 digs, 5 aces) and freshman middle blocker Aubrey Goodere (10 kills, 4 blocks) led the Wolves to a 25-23, 12-25, 25-17, 25-16 win at Cactus.
"I told them that they didn't deserve to win that second set. They were being out-hustled, out-dug, out-blocked , out-hit and out-served," Estrella Foothills coach Jennifer Gonzales said. " I said, 'You guys are watching another team hustle and that's not us. That's how we play. We are the team that hustles all over the court. This team doesn't fold very easily."
Cactus (7-6) looked far better than the #20 team in 4A, particularly in the first two sets. After the narrow setback in set one, the Cobras thoroughly controlled the second set.
Sophomore setter Katie Beehler served the first six points of the set for the home team, only to see Barber serve five straight points and tie it at 6. The rest of the set was all Cactus.
Junior outside hitter Rylie Henige (three kills) and sophomore outside hitter Rylea Simonich (three kills and a block) joined with Beehler and senior middle blocker Lauren Christensen (two aces each) for the romp.
"I think it'll come together in November. I don't think there's a team that wants to play us in November. We can compete with the best teams and we have all year," Cactus coach Anthony Puglisi said.
Estrella Foothills (10-1) maintained its #4 ranking by feeding the duo of Barber and Goodere.
Each hammered down three kills after the third set was tied at 11. Then they both added three more in the fourth.
"I never thought we were a one-player show. It's nice to have that 1-2 punch and until they stop Aubrey in the middle, we're going to keep setting her," Gonzales said.
Cactus is making due with several players in unusual roles for them. Henige is playing six rotations to gain experience at that.
"One issue is cohesion. Keep in mind we're missing our libero (Leah John) and we're missing our starting middle (Amanda Lauer). Amanda accounts for 20% of our offense. She comes back tomorrow and we'll have her for Flagstaff," Puglisi said. "We also have a girl setting in Kaeleigh who has never set before. They're making up for their deficiencies."
The Wolves also have a different look from last year's state runner up. Barber and senior setter Nayeli Mancilla are the only returning starters.
Senior middle blocker Alyssa Charlton and junior right side Sara Betts played some in 2019 but are taking on bigger roles. Sophomores Angelee Bawek and Alyssa Gonzales are standing out in their first full varsity season.
"Angie Bawek has really worked on being a six-rotation player. She can play in the back row but we're giving her some relief right now. She's definitely grown into that outside hitter position and worked on all aspects of her game," Gonzales said.