The Liberty girls volleyball coach Courtney Orcutt said her team turned its season around against Paradise Valley earlier in the year.
The Trojans returned the favor Tuesday night.
Behind strong setting from freshman Ali Mayer and constant pressure from senior Sedona Bostick and junior Kelli Cwiekowski, No. 9 seed Paradise Valley (20-10, 8-4 in Black Canyon region) advanced to the quarter finals of the 4A-II State Tournament with a 3-1 win (25-17, 25-21, 21-25, 25-20) against No. 8 Liberty (24-4, 8-0).
”I think this was a little revenge for us,” said Paradise Valley coach Lynn Blevins.
The Lions rallied from a 2-0 defecit Sept. 10 to win 3-2 against the Trojans. After that win, Liberty won its next 12-of-13, including an undefeated run through the Skyline region. It was a game Coach Courtney Orcutt said was a turning point for the second-year varsity program.
”That was definitely a turning point for us,” Orcutt said. “We lost to McClintock a couple of games before that in five, so we knew we could play against the good teams. But after (the Paradise Valley game) that really set the team dynamic for the rest of the season. It got us clicking and the whole chemistry of the team changed.”
While the Lions gelled, the Trojans did its own retooling, adding a pair of freshman setters – Mayer and Taylor Yantis – to jump start the offense and get the ball to Bostick and Cwiekowski.
“In the middle of the season we switched up our lineup and went with two freshman starters” Blevins said. “No. 10 (Mayer) plays middle when she’s up front and setter when she’s in the back. Both positions may be the hardest on the volleyball court but we asked her to do both and she’s responded.”
From the opening point, Mayer was busy setting the ball to Cwiekowski, who collected four kills in Game 1 and another in Game 2 that forced game point.
With Liberty shifting its block to cover Cwiekowski, Bostick was left open for tips on the opposite wing. The senior hitter had seven kills, with four coming off tips that found holes in the Lion defense.
”They’re a great combination to have,” Blevins said of Bostick and Cwiekowski. “They have good ball control and they attack the middle well.”
As well as the Paradise Valley offense rolled Tuesday, Liberty struggled with its returns and could never mount a steady offense. When the Lions were able to get the ball up front, Skyline player of the year Noel Pauga often finished the point. The sophomore had four kills in Game 1, but only three for the rest of the match as the Trojans adjusted and forced Liberty to send its offense through senior Amanda DeArmond and junior Karleigh McClulre.
And that tandem worked in Game 3 as the Lions jumped out to an 8-3 lead while getting blocks from DeArmond and a pair of kills from junior Angelle Tarango.
However, the Trojans fought back with an 8-1 run to take an 18-17 lead off a Yantis service ace. Orcutt called timeout to rally the team and Liberty responded with Pauga stopping a Bostick kill with a block, which sparked an 8-2 Lions run, capped by a Pauga tip to clinch Game 3.
Paradise Valley regained it’s rhythm in Game 4 as it jumped out to an 11-4 lead, capitalizing on a handful of Liberty unforced errors and kills from Bostick. But the Lions chipped away the Trojan lead and pulled to within one, 15-14, on a dig that was sent out of bounds off an over-pass from DeArmond.
Their rally ended on the next point, however, as Mayer set up Bostick for the point, which DeArmond partially blocked but couldn’t recover the volley. Paradise Valley would close the game with a 9-6 run Bostick hitting a pair of kills and netting a block.
Orcutt said rust and her team’s relative youth may have been a factor in the loss. Their last game of the season was Oct. 29. Liberty also is in it’s second season as a varsity team and graduates its first senior class this school year. The Lions made the state tournament last season, and also fell in the first round to Cactus which will be Paradise Valley’s opponent Thursday.
”We’re a young team and may not be used to (being in the state tournament) yet,” Orcutt said. “We have been off for a week-and-a-half, too. That’s not to take anything away from Paradise Valley, they’re a good team and in games like this it comes down to who makes the fewer mistakes and I think we had quite a few more than (Paradise Valley) did.”