The Mesa High boys volleyball team had a target on its back all season. The Jackrabbits took other team's best shot each time out.
Just three times during the regular season did any of those shots connect. Boulder Creek, however, on Saturday night connected for the second time and at the worst time for top-seeded Mesa.
The Jaguars used big runs at key times to thwart Mesa's bid for a first state title and defeated the Jackrabbits in four games, 25-18, 28-26, 26-24, 25-18, in the Division I championship game at Mesquite. It was Mesa's first loss in a best-of-five match.
Sixth-seeded Boulder Creek, which actually lost six straight matches at one point this season but also beat Mesa once, used a 7-0 run and a 5-2 spurt to take the first two games and then a 5-0 run in the fourth game to pull away and claim its first state championship in front of a raucous, near-capacity crowd.
"I felt like we had games closed out and they said, 'No, you don't,'" Mesa coach Anthony Millares said. "They played a great match. What are you going to do?"
Millares openly questioned himself for not altering his team's blocking scheme, but behind junior Ryen Benson and seniors Quentin Campbell, Elijah Mowry and Cody Williams, Boulder Creek had too many weapons.
"(Mowry) started hurting us and I wish I would have made a change quicker on who we were focusing our block on," Millares said. "We weren't as fundamentally sound as we had been in the past but that's a testament to how well (Boulder Creek) played."
Mesa senior JT Hatch tried to carry the Jackrabbits, continually calling for the set, especially late in the third game before Mesa forced a fourth game on a Hatch kill off the Boulder Creek block.
While that particular block didn't go the Jaguars' way, many others did and their superior play on defense led to their offense and ultimately the state championship.
"(Mesa) passed so well tonight; they were in system a lot," Boulder Creek coach Troy Dueling said. "We were able to overcome that with good blocking."
Hatch finished with 22 kills, and Jacob Komenda added 12.
Benson had 21 kills for Boulder Creek, while Mowry and Williams each had 13 and Campbell chipped in 10.
Despite its seed, Boulder Creek was considered among the state' top three teams, along with Mesa and Hamilton, and the early part of Saturday's opening game was predictably back and forth for such a matchup. But the Jaguars scored seven straight points and took a 22-16 lead they turned into a 25-18 momentum-securing victory.
Game 2 started similarly before Boulder Creek took a 19-15 lead. Mesa, though, rallied and had two chances to win the game before Benson's crosscourt attack gave the Jaguars a commanding advantage they eventually parlayed into the championship trophy.
"We were 44-4," Millares said. "I don't know who would shake their head negatively about that. On any given night you're either going to be the better team or you're not; they were the better team tonight. We have to live with that but that's the way it goes."
Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or email@example.com.Â