On Thursday night in front of a packed crowd at Mesquite High School, Queen Creek took on Sunnyslope for the 5A state volleyball title. Sunnyslope breezed through the opening rounds of the tournament without losing a single set, but Thursday night was a bit different. The Vikings found themselves in a battle, with each set being within six points, but they were able to establish their presence at the net and use strong outside hitting to taking the state title three sets to one.
The first set featured a mix of good and bad for each team. Queen Creek came out on fire early using effective setups to create scoring opportunities on the outside from their hitters. However, once the Vikings settled into the match and kept balls in play, mistakes became more of an issue for Queen Creek. The Bulldogs struggled in the middle of the set to maintain control of the ball, with mishits and missed returns hampering their offense. Sunnyslope continued to capitalize on the self-inflicted errors made by the Bulldogs and thwarted a late rally to take the opening set 25-19.
Sunnyslope Coach Amber LeTarte talks after her team’s state title victory
The second set started off much like the first set ended. Sunnyslope used the early mistakes to their advantage and took an early 9-5 lead in the set. However, Queen Creek picked up both its defense and intensity as the set wore on. The Bulldogs won a couple of long rallies, which inspired both them and their crowd to become more active and involved and helped them establish a rhythm. The Bulldogs used their newfound momentum and effective outside hitting from Jaelyn Hodge to take the second set 27-25 and tie the game at one set apiece.
After a back-and-forth opening two sets, both teams seemed to find their groove in the third. Blocked shots, shots hit with pace, and accurate outside hitting were on display for both teams. Queen Creek gained the early advantage after a couple of miscues by the Vikings, but Sunnyslope rallied to make it interesting coming down the stretch. After tying up the set at 15 the Vikings used effective defense to take control late. Back-to-back blocks late in the set gave them the lead 18-17 and Sunnyslope never looked back as they rode the momentum to a 25-23 win in the third set.
In the fourth set, both teams played well in stretches making for a set of runs. Early on it was all Sunnyslope as they took the early 8-2 lead before Queen Creek was able to respond with a run of their own and cut the deficit to one. From then on, the set remained back-and-forth until a pair of serves from Sunnyslope resulted in mishits and free points for the Vikings late, which allowed them to ultimately take the set and the championship three sets to one.
Sunnyslope coach Amber LeTarte credited her teams composure in the win.
“I really feel our composure and just our consistency,” she said. “I think our girls were able to keep a level head. We knew it was going to be a battle, we knew they were going to get their kills, we knew that. We just wanted to stay playing our game.
“Even when we dropped a set, we were trying to keep our composure, remember who we are, what kind of game we play and stay in that. I’m proud of them.”