Glendale Prep's gym sported a laid-back vibe for its 2A girls volleyball play-in game against Tombstone Nov. 10, cruising to victory while friends and former teammates watched on Zoom.
A few miles down the road that night, a tense Liberty gym brimmed over with emotion as the host Lions erased deficits in the last two sets of its 6A play-in against Mesa Desert Ridge.
After falling behind 23-25, 25-13, 16-25 the Lions were had to fend off two match points before taking the fourth set 26-24. Then #17 Desert Ridge jumped out to a 4-0 fifth set lead, only to see #16 Liberty rally to tie it at 8 and then win the match 18-16 on freshman Alyssa Forelli's block.
"Any time you have a freshman on varsity, they can show you what they do. It was awesome to see her pick it up as the season went along," Liberty coach Ashley Leparulo said.
Both of these young teams advanced on to the main bracket and will play in the first round Saturday. Glendale Prep (10-3) even benefited a bit from another team's misfortune, as #5 ranked Rancho Solano Prep had to bow out with COVID cases - so the Griffins moved up from #9 to #8.
Roberge's team has seniors Jada Roberge and Nerin Valasakos - whom she has seen grow on the court for a decade. Everyone else on the 9-player roster is an underclassman.
"Our setter Nicky Kao is stepping up and sophomore Audrey Davis is really playing well in the middle, which is fantastic," Roberge said.
The Lions also are unusually young but showed the poise of veterans against Desert Ridge, particularly when down 24-22 in the fourth set. Only three of Liberty's 13 players are seniors.
They're outnumbered by four freshmen.
"This year we lost six seniors from last year's team so we really didn't know what to expect. We're lucky we were able to get girls that walk in with that kind of mindset," Schneberger said.
Liberty (9-8) walked the tightrope in the decisive fifth set, down 4-0 and on the verge of collapse. The Lions and Jaguars yo-yoed back and forth for several points, with freshman Ellie Trimble knocking down two kills and another freshman finishing it off.
Now up to the #15 seed after nearby Mountain Ridge's play-in road win in Tucson, the Lions face a juggernaut in #2 Chandler Hamilton (13-2) tonight. But Schneberger and fellow seniors Kylie Ostrovsky and Gracie Senseman, just having a season and a moment like Tuesday night has made it worth it.
"It means the world. I remember thinking in July that there was no way we'd play. That I wouldn't have another opportunity to play. For me I'm extremely grateful opportunity. We don't know when the last point or opportunity will be," Schneberger said.
Glendale Prep faces #9 Arizona Lutheran at 3 and would play #1 Trivium Prep tonight if they win. Both games are at McClintock High in Tempe.
Their final match at home afforded the Griffiths a chance to do something unique. Glendale Prep set up a big screen on the stage above its court - and friends, former players and students watched the game from home on it - a la the NBA bubble fans.
"This was the first night we've had the opportunity to do that. Our athletic director is working very hard to figure out how to develop a home field culture. In 2020 it's hard to do," Roberge said. "It was fun seeing colleagues of mine, former coaches and former players on there."