Liberty’s biggest hitter took the set and drilled the ball down the left side.
And Deer Valley libero Megan Cruz took the bullet.
The senior didn’t flinch. She came up with the dig, feeding the ball to Courtney Brown who found a hole in the Lion defense for a 16-15 lead in Game 5.
Cruz’s dig saved the win for the Skyhawks who battled from a 2-1 defecit for a 3-2 win (25-15, 15-25, 10-25, 25-21, 17-15) against Liberty (15-4).
“She has stepped it up for us this year,” said Deer Valley coach Jackie Wallace. “She is my only returning senior from last year and she is a leader on and off the court. She is our voice out there and also leads by example.”
The Lions went to Noel Pauga again and the Skyhawks’ other senior, Tarin Chepeus, stepped up with junior Amanda Conlin to block the attempt and hand Deer Valley a big power point win.
“I told my younger girls ‘this may seem like a lot of intense pressure, but we have to step it up,’” Wallace said. “We’re a young team and a team that we’ll carry on to next year.”
The youth movement starts at the setter position where Wallace handed the offensive reins to freshman Taylor Woods this year. The Skyhawk setter finished the first month of the season with 378 assists and a 7.5 assists per game average.
With three-year starter Kayla Kane graduated, that left a hole at the setter position. However, Woods has proven she is ready for the varsity level. Wallace had so much confidence in the freshman, she named her the starter at the beginning of the season.
“She acts like there is no pressure,” Wallace said. “She plays the game. She loves the game. She will sacrifice everything to make sure that ball doesn’t hit the floor. She is a go-getter and a die-hard player.”
Woods finished the night with a 103 assist attempts against Liberty and three service aces to add to her team leading 27 this season.
She took the serve to open Game 5 and helped lead Deer Valley to a 7-0 lead, including three assists to go with Conlin’s two kills. Liberty finally earned a side out when the freshman setter served into the net.
The Lions charged back, outscoring the Skyhawks 14-7 over the course of the game. They tied the game at 14 on a kill from righ-side hitter McKenzie Garcia, but the Skyhawks came earned a sideout on the next serve when Liberty was called four a double-hit violation. Woods’s serve on the next point went long to tie the game at 15, setting up Deer Valley’s heoics.
“I told our girls there was no reason to hang our heads because we came back from 7-0,” said Liberty coach Courtney Johnson. “We made too many mistakes and its something we have to learn from for future matches.”
The Lions built a 15-10 lead in Game 4 on Jackie Galarza’s serve went off Chepeus, which prompted Wallace to call a timeout. Galarza served into the net following the break and after the Lions were called for a hitting violation, junior Raiyen Fielding blocked a tip from Pauga then landed a tip of her own to spark a 12-3 run for Deer Valley. Fielding’s tip with both squads tied at 18 gave the Skyhawks the lead for good.
“I told them (in the timeout) to play smart, minimize the errors and make smart choices,” Wallace said.
Woods iced the game with a service ace to send the match to the fifth game.
“She’s a little dynamo,” Wallace said.
After dropping Game 1, Liberty battled back in Games 2 and 3, using its speed and defense to open opportunities at the net. The Lions built a 10-2 as Amanda Gubler served four aces and Selina Pretrosky kept the rally alive with some big blocks against Conlin and Courtney Brown.
The Skyhawks cut the lead to 12-10 in Game 2, but that was as close as they’d get with Liberty going on a 13-5 run down the stretch. Garcia and Gubler had kills during the run and Tatum Cushing fed back-to-back spikes to Pauga to finish the game.
“(Garcia) is a smart player,” Johnson said. “She knows she has to make up for her height on the court. She knows where she needs to hit the ball and where to swing from. Besides Noel we have a lot of good hitters.”
Liberty used an 8-0 run midway through Game 3 for the 2-1 advantage.
“When we set the tone of the game they couldn’t catch up to our speed,” Johnson said. “We just can’t let down in any game. We made a lot of errors in that last game.”
So should fans expect the same dog fight Oct. 11 with the Skyhawks visit Liberty for the rematch?
I think my girls will be a little more hungry when we them next week (Oct. 11),” Johnson said.