Many people would not mind returning to 2019 right now.
But there is the growing sense for one small focus group - namely, the Estrella Foothills volleyball team - that the fall of 2021 could even be better. The Wolves program burst onto the scene by reaching the 4A state finals for the first time.
The 2021 team lost its first game Saturday to Phoenix Paradise Valley, while going 4-1 in a tournament at Greenway. But in their 13-1 start the Wolves won their own Wolves Classic in comeback fashion, swept all three regular season matches and may have taken a staple of the program to a new level.
“We’ve always enforced that defense is our way to go. If we’re going to have this many defensive specialists on our team, we’re going to be a defensive team,” Estrella Foothills coach Jennifer Gonzales said after a home sweep of Cactus Sept. 9. “This may be our best defensive team. Just when you think that ball is going to hit the floor, someone is there to dig it up.”
That defense demoralized Cactus (3-2), particularly in the first two sets of a 25-14, 25-10, 25-16 win Sept. 9.
Gonzales credited the improvment of junior libero Jazzlee Acosta and junior outside hitter/defensive specialist Sage Chittester for adding depht to the defense. Junior setter Raegan Moran and six-rotation outside hitter Emma Barber also have 70 or more digs early.
Sophomore middle blocker Aubrey Goodere (26 total blocks) and senior right side Sara Betts (15 total block) give the back row defensive support.
“They’re a very good team. You know how I am about the Catholic schools. They’re the only ones that have a chance to beat Notre Dame Prep,” Cactus coach Anthony Puglisi said Sept. 9.
The Wolves hit a solid, but not overwheling, 33 kills - or 11 per set - that night. But the home team didn't need an overwhelming attack.
Estrella Foothills kept the match rolling with 14 aces. Moran paced them with six, while junior middle blocker Angelee Bawek added three and six players served at least one.
“Serving will take a good team out of their offense and we practice it a lot. We’re getting four aces a game. That’s free points.”
Puglisi metioned the Cobras were without a top producer in junior middle blocker Amanda Lauer, who was injured earlier that week in a car accident.
But he said the primary cause for the loss was a lack of fundamentals and communication. Balls dropped on the Cobras side, blocks missed and passes sent players far out of position.
“That’s no excuse. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do. We didn’t even do the basics tonight,” Puglisi said. “We have a problem getting shell shocked and it hurts us. Last night we did the same thing against Greenway. We missed 11 serves the first set and nine serves the second set. Then we settled down and destroyed them the next two sets. Really poor reffing in the fifth set got us to lose. We actually won the fifth set by far. It is what it is.”
While the Cobras regroup, Estrella Foothills prepares for a couple big Tuesday trips.
The Wolves head to Gilbert Mesquite Sept. 14, then visit fellow 4A contender Chandler Seton Catholic Sept. 21.
“We’re looking to play consistently well. We don’t want to have that oops moment. This team is so consistent and their will to win is unmatched. When we’re down 11-4 in a game to 15 and we can come back and win, you don’t even see the nervousness on their face,” Gonzales said.