Transferring to an East Valley high school would have made sense. After all, next fall Sarah Reaves will call Tempe home as a member of the Arizona State Sun Devils volleyball team.
But when her family decided to move to the Paradise Valley area following her junior season, the 17-year-old, who has verbally accepted a scholarship offer to be a member of the Sun Devils, knew she would spend her senior year where she has spent the previous three, as a member of the Ironwood Eagles volleyball team.
With the season set to start Tuesday and the Eagles bidding for their third consecutive region title, Reaves has no doubt she made the right decision.
“Well the drive to school stinks. It’s long and boring and I worry about being late everyday, but I’m so excited for the season to get started,” said last year’s co-player of the year in the Desert West Region.
“We should be tough to beat.”
Following a 2004 season in which they went to the 5A quarterfinals before falling to eventual champions Mountain Ridge, the Eagles breezed their way through last year’s regular season 32-8.
Heading into the 5A Div-II state tournament as the No. 2 seed, a finals matchup between No. 1 Desert Mountain and the No. 2 Eagles seemed a logical conclusion.
Instead the No. 3 Deer Valley Skyhawks knocked off Reaves and the Eagles in a three-game match, leaving Ironwood a match short of playing for a state championship.
“It was extremely disappointing,” she said. “We felt we were the better team, but we just didn’t adjust during the game. They played well. Everybody that went through it last year is motivated to get another chance this time around.”
Before they can redeem themselves in the state tournament, Ironwood will aim for its third consecutive region crown. Ironwood will be going up against the teams in a Desert West Region that sent five of eight teams to the state tournament.
With Reaves on their side coach Kathy Wilson is willing to take her chances after the junior set a school single season record by recording 460 kills, while posting a .405 hitting percentage.
And those numbers came despite the opposition setting their defenses to try to stop Ironwood’s outside hitter.
“We’ve got a lot of other options for offense, but I kind of like it when teams build up to try and stop me,” she said. “I like having an obstacle to have to push through. It’s fun to be challenged.”
Short of food poisoning, a joking Sunrise Mountain coach Deb Moore said she isn’t sure there is an answer to dealing with Reaves.
“First of all she’s got an incredible vertical, but then she’s so versatile,” said the Mustangs coach. “One time I thought we had done a pretty good job contesting her in the first game, but then they just had her attack from another position the next game and she went wild on us.”
Peoria coach Robyn McDowell calls Reaves a big gun and a huge force.
Centennial coach Carly Bourland has seen enough of Reaves as well.
“She’s just a beast,” the Coyotes coach said. “You try to put up a block against her, but she has such a fast, arm swing that a lot of times she beats the block, and then there’s the possibility she’ll just jump over it, or because she’s so strong she’ll go through it. You better be in position or she’ll kill you.”
For all the accolades the Eagles star receives for her hitting prowess, she’s very proud of the way she’s improved her all-around game. After mainly playing at the net as a sophomore, Reaves became an all six rotation player, leading the team with 370 digs a year ago.
“I actually love passing more than hitting,” she said. “Hitting is pretty easy for me, but it takes more concentration to pass well. You have to be on your toes.”
The Ironwood captain said improving in all phases of her game is one of her main objectives.
“You have to keep getting better,” she said. “I wanted to be a captain this year and even though I don’t like telling people what to do, if you work hard people notice it. You can lead by example.”
Wilson said that approach works for Reaves.
“She’s really a silent leader,” the coach said. “She’s one of the kids that’s blessed with talent, but still goes 110 percent in practice all the time. She makes her teammates work harder because of the effort she gives. Really, she’s been a model to the younger players. Plus they look at playing against her as a great challenge. They want to try and dig one of her kills.”
While Reaves won a state title last season in the long jump, she said a team title in volleyball would be much more meaningful.
“Everybody was happy for me when I won, but it wasn’t that big of a deal, because I wanted everyone else to have the same feeling,” she said. “To celebrate as a team, with this team would be great.”
Reminiscing about a state championship might make the commute to a from school go a lot quicker.