There’s something to be said about being the defending state champions. It automatically puts a target on your back come playoff time – something Anthem Boulder Creek coach Taylor Stallman knows all too well.
That target is about to get a little bigger.
For the third time in the last four years, Boulder Creek will be hanging a boys volleyball banner in its gym after it topped No. 2 Chandler 3-1 Friday in the 6A Conference championship Friday at Gilbert Mesquite High School.
“I’m just relieved right now,” senior outside hitter Patrick Ross said. “It’s amazing. I can’t really describe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
With a defense that kept Chandler’s big hitters Jonny Bowles and Braxton Bradbeer silent for most of the match and an offense that was aided with seven aces, Boulder Creek didn’t play like a fourth seed at all.
“There’s a reason Boulder has won three out of four state titles,” Chandler Bobby Robson said. “There’s a reason they rolled through these playoffs. They’re freaking good. They’re tough and they’re disciplined. They got swagger. They’re just a fantastic program.”
They showed that swagger early, too.
After battling it out through the early part of the first game, Boulder Creek went on a 10-4 run, eventually taking the first game 25-20.
“Our conversation before the game was just about not letting the moment get to us,” Stallman said. “We had to treat every single point the same way. … Our biggest thing was that we had to go 1-0 today, but we can’t go 1-0 without taking every point one at a time.”
Despite being down 2-0 after Boulder Creek cruised to an easy 25-18 in the second game, Chandler (31-5-4) refused to give in. Bradbeer’s ace jump-started the Chandler offense and the packed house quickly started to swing in favor of Chandler.
“They wanted it for each other,” Robson said. “They’ve had this chip on their shoulder, saying we are going to be here. … They fought, man. They were first to 15 in that third and fourth set. They battled.”
But no matter how hard Chandler fought, it just couldn’t keep pace with Boulder Creek. Lucas Boni’s block tied the match at 17 in the fourth set, before the pressure of seeing a state championship slip away before its eyes caused Chandler to make some uncharacteristic errors as Boulder Creek capped off the night with a 25-21 victory.
“We were just trying to get everybody to breathe,” Stallman said. “You could tell a lot of our players were getting tired. A lot of it was we have a lot of guys jumping on every play. The guys kept looking at each other and saying, ‘Next point.’ We won two sets, but we knew that the match isn’t finished until someone gets to 25 in the third.”
And after watching Boulder Creek win back-to-back titles, Robson said he’s hoping Chandler will be wearing the target next year.
“We’re raising a banner in our gym,” Robson said. “The first volleyball banner in our gym is going to be ours, and that fills me up with pride. For an all-Chandler coaching staff, to do this for us and this school and community, it’s been unreal.”