Ironwood does not want this unexpected treat of a girls volleyball season to end any time soon and earned one more game Tuesday night.
The Eagles lost eight seniors from the 2020 team that returned the program to the 5A quarterfinals. Yet the 2021 team is in the same ballpark in terms of record and seeding despite a rotation with four seniors and five underclassmen.
At home for the play-in round, #14 Ironwood (16-13) relied on consistent defense and serving to dispatch #19 Willow Canyon (22-15) in straight sets 25-12, 25-14, 25-15
"It's awesome that you observed that. Depth isn't really there because a lot of our team doesn't play competitively. They only play high school ball," Ironwood coach Lisa Lopez said. "They want to learn and do better. Their defense has improved tremendously. Our last game against Centennial is probably the best defense we've had and we hope that carries us through the postseason."
The Eagles even picked up a spot in the rankings Tuesday night. #20 Williams Field knocked off #13 Marana
So Ironwood will be #13 in the main 5A bracket and face off with the eventual #4 seed when the pairings are revealed Wednesday.
Willow Canyon grabbed a 4-1 lead early, but the Eagles stabilized themselves and took a 10-5 advantage in the first set.
Junior Anaya Wade hit four kills early in the first set as Ironwood ended it on a 13-3 run.
"Most of our games rely on those first couple of points and however we come out of the gate. How we start the game is usually how we're going to end," senior outside hitter Mariah Hall said. "Today I felt like we persevered because we were down in the beginning. Once they started making some errors we took advantage and kept racking up points. Our defense was good and we were covering a lot."
Then the Eagles sophomores took over. Outside hitter Victoria White, who played on the varsity last year, hit seven kills in a dominant second set.
Sedona Anderson, a middle blocker in her first varsity season, put away the set with two kills and a block.
"Victoria and Sedona have stepped up hugely at starting positions on the outside and in the middle . I;m super proud of them. They're being leaders and powerhouses on the court," Lopez said.
Facing the end of their season, Willow Canyon again jumped out to a 4-1 lead and stayed in the third set through a 13-13 tie.
Again, Ironwood pulled away. Hall had three kills in the first half of the set and White finished it with three kills.
"We just beat Centennial twice in a row for the first time in nine years, so I feel like we're doing really good. We're a very scrappy,a thletic team," Hall said. "If I see Tori is having a good practice then I'll try to step up my game. We're always trying to make each other better."
It ends a season of improvement for the Wildcats. Willow Canyon won the Central Region with a 10-0 record after finishing second last year.
Junior Anika Clermont led the visitors with seven kills while senior Maliyah Spencer added five.
"We've had a fantastic season and unfortunately tonight was a diappointing end to that. These senior have really fought hard to get better. That showed in our regular season record this year," Willow Canyon coach Matt Overfelt said.
Ironwood has a second straight year of heading on the road for the first round match.
In 2020 the Eagles headed to Vail and took down Cienega. Who knows what this year's road trip will bring.
"It's been a lot of fun. It's a great group of girls who have been with the program since their freshman year. They all know each other. Even though a lot weren't on varsity last year, they came in ready to go. They all mesh well," Lopez said.
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