The offseason work, the regular season and tournament matches, the win-or-go-home state tournament — after all of that, Highland’s season came down to a race for nine points.
The Hawks and Glendale Deer Valley were tied two games apiece and 6-6 in the fifth set, but the Skyhawks scored nine of the final 11 points for a 25-19, 18-25, 22-25, 25-23, 15-8 victory to capture the 5A boys volleyball state championship on Saturday at Mesquite.
The final scene was Highland’s Jordan Clare running into the net post as he couldn’t quite get the ball over, and the Deer Valley team sprinting onto the court in celebration.
“Highland’s gotten a lot of these trophies,” Kim Ulrich-Suss said. “They are a perennial powerhouse and an amazing program. We’ve worked for nine years to get to this point. We felt like we were the team of destiny this year and we proved it.”
Highland coach Vee Hiapo said it was tough to lose at this juncture, but credited Deer Valley for playing an impressive match.
She was also proud of her team because the majority of them didn’t play much last season.
“For a group to come off the bench and make it to the state championship in less than a year, I’ve never seen that happen in the nine years that I’ve coached,” Hiapo said.
Highland held a 2-1 lead after three games and trailed 23-22 in the fourth set when a crucial call went Deer Valley’s way. Deer Valley star Kevin Villela hit a ball out of bounds, but Highland was called for touching the net, giving the Skyhawks a two-point cushion instead of tying the game.
Highland started out strong in the deciding game, but Deer Valley quickly made up an early 4-2 deficit and surged to the victory.
The teams had played twice before this. Deer Valley went to Highland and swept the match early in the regular season, and the Hawks got revenge in the Red Mountain Tournament.
It is Highland’s third runner-up finish in the last five years. The Hawks last won a title in 2005.
“Am I surprised?” Hiapo said. “Yes. You never expect to lose.”
Clare had 16 kills for Highland and Jacob Sawyer had 15.