When Vail Cienega boys volleyball coach Heather Mott speaks of her team, she says she has 12 sons – the two that have biological ties to her, plus 10 others that she’s sort of adopted.
And with Mother’s Day Sunday, they may have found the perfect gift for the woman most affectionately refer to as “Mom.”
Top-ranked Cienega pulled off an incredible comeback in the final two games to defeat Phoenix Horizon Honors 3-2, taking the last game 15-11, en route to the 5A Conference state title Friday at Gilbert Mesquite High School.
“Everyone dreams about this,” Heather Mott said. “As a coach I think you just hope that something like can happen. It’s really hard to get here, and it’s even harder to win. I just feel so grateful.”
Mott’s reaction at the end of the game told the story about the long road. As soon as Skyler Cavanaugh’s kill hit the ground, she fell to the floor before being helped up by her assistants.
“My knees just felt weak,” she said. “I just thought about what that would feel like … My knees were a little weak and I thought, you know what, I don’t think I can stand up right now.”
While Mott’s knees may have been weak, that wasn’t the case for Cavanaugh. The senior tallied six kills in the final two games alone. That coupled along with a big kill from Mclain Mott proved to be the spark Cienega (37-4) to clinch the title.
“Any time (Cavanaugh) gets it, he puts it down at will,” Horizon Honors coach Lisa Barlow said. “We made a few too many errors and gave them a few too many chances to put return it and put it down on us.”
After Cienega took the first game 25-16, Horizon Honors (31-4) came out as the aggressor in the second and third game. Led by Trevor Weary, Horizon Honors overcame some early mistakes in the second game to take a 2-1 lead.
“They really showed some mental toughness,” Barlow said.
It looked like Horizon Honors – in just its fourth year – was going to claim its first state title midway through the fourth game, but something happened. Cavanaugh and Cienega took over.
Led by a pair of crucial kills and a stuff at the net, Cienega ended the fourth game on a 9-3 run. From there, Cienega continued to carry momentum through the fifth game.
“Toward that end of the third, fourth and into the fifth set, I could kind of feel that surge coming again,” Mott said. “I knew that Trevor was going to be tired at that point. They hadn’t played a lot of games to five and he was getting fatigued. I kept telling my boys that this is the time to jump.”
And jump they did – none higher than Cavanaugh – who could barely walk himself after the exhausting fifth game. But with a two-plus hour bus ride home, there will be plenty of time for Cavanaugh to recuperate. And sitting in the seat next to him? A shiny new state championship trophy.
“I’m not giving this up for anything,” Cavanaugh said to Mott as they were leaving.