Mingus volleyball players are all smiles after locking up a state playoff berth this past weekend at Coconino. Players include (l-r) Row 1 - Roxie Streetman, Tasha Gillies, Stacia Osborne and Angela Mier. Row 2 - Christie Hoover, Gail Stearley, Priscilla Fitzpatrick, Hannah Mickelson, Jill Ferreira, Krista Kessel, Julie Knight and Brenna Winslow.
At the time he set the date, his Marauders were struggling at the bottom of the Grand Canyon Region standings and looked to be a long shot even to make it out of the first round of the league tournament.
The spikers did have their banquet on Monday, but they’re still playing. They beat third-seeded Sinagua in the opening round of the GCR tournament last week, knocked out second-place Page in the semifinals and nearly upset regular season champion Coconino in Saturday’s title game.
For their efforts – placing second in the tournament -- the Cinderella bunch will take the GCR’s number two seed into this week’s state 4A tournament. The Marauders draw Easy Sky champion Saguaro as their first-round opponent tonight (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. in Scottsdale.
“It was very strange,” Short said. “Usually (at the banquet), you say goodbye to the kids and the parents, and it’s over. But hey, we’re still practicing.”
Actually, Short may be among the few not surprised at his team’s late-season surge. The Marauders showed flashes of championship-caliber play all season, even while they were suffering through a 1-9-2 stretch from mid-September into October.
They nearly upset Coconino at home and pushed defending champion Flagstaff to the limit. They beat Sinagua in an early-season tournament and played well in stretches at Chinle even without a star player and a key setter.
The breakthrough finally came in the last week of the regular season. The Marauders beat Sinagua on senior night in two games. And despite losing a doubleheader to Page a few days later, they rebounded to top the Mustangs again in the opening round of tournament play.
That set up a rematch with Page in Saturday’s semifinals, and Short entered the contest believing his team had the arsenal to pull the upset. Mingus validated his confidence with a 15-2, 17-15 decision.
“We played some really good volleyball against Page,” Short said. “We had nothing to lose, and they had everything to lose. Sometimes that’s a big advantage.”
Mingus exploited Page’s smaller line-up in the first game, Short said. During one stretch, the Sand Devils had no one on the front line who could challenge big hitters Jill Ferreira and Krista Kessel. Roxie Streetman kept serving them nice sets, and the duo feasted on the opportunity.
"We hit the ball a lot," Short said.
Fuming over its humbling in game one, Page jumped to a 6-0 lead in the second set. Short quickly called timeout to defuse the situation.
“I thought we may had awakened a really angry team of volleyball players,” he said. “I told the girls, if we have to go to three games we’re going to lose.”
The Marauders fought back and pulled to within 13-10 and eventually 15-15. Despite running out of subs at the end, Mingus squeaked by with 2 more points. That win and Coconino’s victory over Chinle effectively put the Marauders into the state playoffs.
Coco won the title game over Short’s crew 15-9, 15-10. Mingus rallied from an 8-2 deficit in game one to pull within 9-8. The Marauders took an 8-3 edge in the second game before the Panthers surged back to tie it at 9.
Coconino didn’t lose a GCR game this season, finishing 12-0. The Panthers play Cactus Shadows, the only team to beat them this fall, in their first round playoff game tonight.
“If we would have had another hour between Page and Coconino, we could have beaten Coconino,” Short said. “They didn’t have the energy to come right back.”
Short compares Saguaro, a team the Marauders played last year, with Coconino. Both have four or five go-to players that opponents need to worry about.
Tonight’s winner will play either Catalina Foothills (Kino Region champion) or Nogales (Sonoran number two) in Friday’s quarterfinals at Grand Canyon University. The semifinals will also be played Friday, and the title game will be at high noon on Saturday.
Who knows, Mingus may need to schedule yet a few more practices before all the official good-byes.
“I’m happy for the seniors,” Short said of Ferreira, Stacia Osborne, Angela Mier, Julie Knight and Tasha Gillies.
“This is exciting for them. It’s a way better way to end. We just put it together at the right time. Maybe it just needed to take all season to figure it out.”