It was the same scene point after point.
A Centennial hitter scalds a would-be kill only to see a Scottsdale Desert Mountain defender save the volley to set up a point. Or, a Coyote tip would meet the teeth of the Wolves middle blockers with the ball directed to one side or another for a point.
“Every time we hit the ball I just wished (Desert Mountain) would let the ball fall,” said Coyotes coach Carly Bourland. “They got to everything and played flawless defense.”
The Wolves swept No. 3 seed Centennial, 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-19), to advance to the 5A-II finals Tuesday at Brophy College Prep. The win kept Desert Mountain’s persona in tact as this year’s West Valley killers.
No. 2 seed Desert Mountain (19-5) eliminated No. 15 Deer Valley, 3-1, and No. 7 Ironwood, 3-1 on its way to the finals.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point,” said Wolves coach Shannon Bullock. “But we’re peaking at the right time and I think the only team that can beat us now is ourselves.”
While the match wasn’t lost in Game 1, Desert Mountain laid the groundwork for what was to come in games 2 and 3.
In a tightly contested, back-and-forth game, junior Jocelyn Leichner tipped a ball over the Centennial block to break an 18-18 tie, and then followed up with another tip to break another tie at 20. The Coyotes responded with kills from seniors Brooke Pottle and Paige Tonz, which gave them a short-lived 22-21 lead.
The Wolves earned a sideout on junior Paige Pfieffer’s tip, and two points later closed out the game on a block and a point-saving dig by Leichner, that set up senior Shea’s Sorenson’s pass over which junior Emylee Schlink returned into the net.
“In that first game we were trying to find what worked and would not work,” Bullock said.
What worked for Desert Mountain was its block up the middle. Centennial had modest success when it fed the ball to the wings, but when the offense was steered to the middle, the Wolves block stopped the point of attack and quickly put the Coyotes on the defensive.
That was evident midway through Game 2 when the Wolves stopped a Schlink kill during a 4-0 run, and broke a tie at 10 when sophomore Michelle Stanley stopped an over pass by Tonz.
Centennial pulled to within 1, 14-13, on a pair of Carly Edington kills but a 4-hit violation gave Desert Mountain a side out and it controlled the game’s tempo from that point. Leichner pushed a kill past the Coyote block to start a 12-4 run and claim Game 2.
”It comes down to the fact that we weren’t able to match them offensively,” Bourland said. “We struggled stringing together points, and they controlled the pace of the game and went on some runs. We couldn’t keep the serve and didn’t execute our shots. We also couldn’t shut down their middles and their outside hitters did a good job finding holes.”
Game 3 started promising enough as Schlink notched a service ace and Edington followed with a kill. It was all Wolves after that.
Desert Mountain went on a 9-0 run as it scored on three blocks, two from Sorenson and one from Pfeiffer who also had two kills during the stretch. Centennial (22-6) was able to cut the lead to four a few times, but the Wolves’s did enough to keep the Coyotes at bay by not allowing a run of more than two points to finish the game and match.
”I liked the way our players finished out the match, by playing hard,” Bourland said. “That just shows the character of girls we have. But I also told them unfortunately the better team won today.”