Centennial rises above Horizon - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Centennial rises above Horizon

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Posted: Saturday, November 15, 2008 11:54 pm | Updated: 9:04 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Centennial outside hitter Mackenzie Willneff said someone had to light a fire under her team.

So, the senior took it upon herself to be the fire starter.

"You could see it on our faces in the huddle (during that third game)," Willneff said. "You can't show defeat, especially in the state championships, because the other team will see you dragging and it gives them more momentum. So, I lit a spark under everyone. Someone had to."

"Mack kept saying in each huddle that we weren't going home tonight," said Coyote Coach Carly Bourland, who smiled and then added. "I thought she might kill someone if we lost the match."

Fortunately, the Centennial players were safe as they rebounded from a two-game deficit to win 3-2 (23-25, 23-25, 25-23, 27-25, 15-13) in the 5A-II state championship semifinal match. The top seeded Coyotes will face No. 3 seed Deer Valley at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Brophy College Prep.

Centennial hadn't been through a five-game match this season, so Bourland felt a little brush-up on a short game in practice would go a long way in the state championships. On Wednesday, the Coyote coach said the team practiced by running through a 15-point game.

"I think that scrimmage it helped our mental approach in this match," Bourland said.

Much like Thursday night, when Horizon ousted Sunrise Mountain, the No. 5-seed Huskies controlled the net with their size and defense.

It wasn't until late in the third game, with the season in question for Centennial did things turn around. With Horizon's Sarah McGaffin on serve and the Coyotes down 21-17, sophomore Dana Gundrum set a pass on a cross feed to senior Jessica Youngberg who killed the shot into the opposite corner for the point.

Pottle came up big on the next volley, blocking a spike from senior outside hitter Renee Roth, and then notching the kill. Huskies coach Valorie McKenzie called a timeout after the play to settle her troops.

However, the timeout did not slow Centennial's momentum. With Willneff on serve, the Coyotes took the lead three points later on a service return into the net.

Centennial would seal their first victory of the match when Horizon couldn't handle Willneff's hit, sending the ball into the net. In the end, the Coyotes used a 9-3 run to close out the Huskies.

"The over-feed to Youngberg in game three was really a turning point for us," Willneff said. "It was a quick power point for us, which was what we needed. That's how it's been this season, though, we'd get a big play in a game and everything would turn around for us."

Game four went back and forth until Centennial put together a 5-1 run on a block of a Horizon pass to take a 17-14 lead. The Huskies battled back with their own run, tying the game at 17, until Youngberg again changed the game with a tip off a feed from Gundrum. Two points later Willneff served an ace that went off senior Meghan Bristyan, putting the Coyotes up 21-18.

Horizon would recover and tie the game on a long kill from Centennial. That play was part of a 3-0 run that put the Huskies in position to win the game and match. However, on the next point junior Maggie Matheson set a pass up for Pottle who killed down the middle to tie the game at 24.

Centennial gained the edge on a Gundrum tip, and after a return that fell wide, the Coyotes went to the their big hitters - Willneff and Youngberg - to win the game and force a fifth set.

An early lead sparked the Coyotes, but Horizon fought back again. The Huskies took a brief lead, 10-9, on McGaffin's tip after she faked the kill. However, Centennial regained the lead two points later with tips from Youngberg and senior Megan Rhoades. And when Roth's kill attempt sailed past the back line to cinch the match, Bourland could finally exhale.

"I couldn't be prouder of the way this team battled," said the Centennial coach. "This win was a total team effort. Not only did the seniors carry this team, but so did the sophomores like Dana (Gundrum) and Emylee Schlinck. Everyone contributed to us advancing to the title game."

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]