Once again this fall, the narrow difference between state 4A girls volleyball title contenders Deer Valley and Notre Dame Prep was the Saints' serving.
When the teams met Oct. 1 in Scottsdale, the home team served 11 aces to the Skyhawks' 6 and won in five sets. In the Oct. 26 return match in Glendale, the Saints placed 10 aces to outlast Deer Valley in five.
Junior libero McKenna Douglas served five in the match and staked #3 ranked Notre Dame Prep (10-0) to a 3-0 lead in the fifth set. Two more consecutive aces by junior outside hitter Madison White built the magin to 7-3 and sent the visitors on their way to a 16-25, 25-22, 25-23, 21-25, 15-10 victory.
"One of the rotations we start off with is specifically is to highlight her as a server," Notre Dame Prep coach Holly McLean said.
The 10 aces are not many more than eight served by #5 Deer Valley (9-2) Monday night. But the Saints were able to serve well consistently enough to throw the Skyhawks transition game and limit the number of times they could set quality attacks.
In an otherwise even match , Notre Dame Prep had a pronounced advantage in attacks (177 to 148) and kills (58 to 42). White led all players with 21 kills while freshman outside hitter Evan Hendrix added 19.
Conversely, two Skyhawks tied for the team lead with 11 kills - senior setter Bailey Fuches and junior middle blocker Liz Rupp.
However, Deer Valley presents problems with its versatility in attack - five players had between four and 11 kills - and its block. Sophomore middle blocker Amanda Hardt led all players with 11 blocks.
"They have even set distribution. They're not weak in one department. Their block gives us the biggest challenge. They don't really make it easy for us. We have to play long rallies and play clean within those rallies because of their blocking," McLean said.
Fuches had a standout all-around game, with 47.8 percent of her attacks succeeding, 19 assists, 16 digs four blocks and two aces.
It was the start of the Saints' most daunting week of the regular season. Notre Dame Prep faced four games in four days, three of them against fellow top-five teams in 4A.
Tuesday night, McLean's team quickly swept Desert Edge. The gauntlet resumes Wednesday, when #4 Estrella Foothills (9-1) visits Scottsdale, and concludes with #2 Tucson Salpointe Catholic (11-1) travels to the Valley Thursday.
"That's exactly what I'm asking for because our program needed that, to be tested going into the state tournament. To come from behind, we haven't been in that situation, so we needed that experience," McLean said.