Senior Bailey Nations’ impact on the Peoria volleyball program is so profound that even the football-mad Panther fans are taking notice.
“She probably single-handedly has brought in more of our students to our games,” said Peoria coach Michelle Stoffey. “We have football players who are enjoying watching us. She’s turning heads not only at other schools but here on campus.”
Nations and three other seniors have led the Panthers to a 9-3 start, including rare wins over Cactus, Liberty and Sunrise Mountain.
It’s the culmination of a building process that began four years ago when Nations, Brittany Dobson, Ellie Sausedo and Stoffey arrived on campus from Peoria Elementary. Stoffey coached at the middle school and the trio was the heart of a team that claimed the district middle school title.
“I coached (Nations) in junior high as well,” Stoffey said. “Since seventh grade, I knew what I had. She’s an elite player that we haven’t had at this school.”
Stoffey was hired as a guidance counselor at the school and began coaching the junior varsity squad. Nations, Dobson and Sausedo knew they were going to the only high school in the district without a track record of success.
“Our elementary school won championships and we all wanted to come here to start the program and help it,” Nations said.
Things didn’t change overnight. The Panthers were 6-16 in 2008.
Stoffey took over as varsity coach for 2009. But Nations missed most of the 8-9 season due to injury.
“It was hard watching my team and wanting to go out there and help. But it made me work that much harder to play again,” Nations said.
Last year, the Peoria Elementary crew began to make gains. Nations’ 181 kills were nearly triple the amount that second-place Sausedo put up, plus she led the Panthers in assists and finished second in blocks.
Peoria finished the regular season 15-10 to earn the No. 15 seed in 4A-I. The Panthers lost to Tucson Sabino, but had met their goal and had nine returnees to build on.
“Last year, our goal was to get to the playoffs. This year, our goal is to go farther and make it to the championship,” Nations said.
The competition is tougher for Peoria this year in the new Division II, with 5A-II stalwarts Deer Valley, Ironwood and Marcos de Niza moving in and 4A-II powers Arcadia, Liberty, Notre Dame Prep and Paradise Valley moving up.
Plus, three-time defending state champion Phoenix Sunnyslope remains the kingpin. But so far Peoria hasn’t blinked. They split with Sunrise Mountain and lost to Paradise Valley, but stunned outsiders by sweeping 2010 4A-IIunner-up Liberty.
The Panthers have another tilt with the Lions, and still face their biggest challenge — two matchups with Ironwood.
Nations is the main reason the Panthers haven’t looked out of their depth. The 5-10 outside hitter again is dominant in kills and teams with sophomore Taylor Blue on the block.
She also serves as a galvanizing force through her upbeat attitude and unselfish personality, Stoffey said.
“The nice thing about Bailey is she’s a phenomenal player, but has no arrogance about her. That’s why she’s a great leader. These girls respect her. When she makes mistakes, she’s the first one to say ‘my mistake,’ and adjust,” Stoffey said. “She’s this wild and crazy senior. She’s very full of life. She will make a bad experience into a great experience on and off the court.”
Nations said the key to her success is the chemistry she’s developed over five years with Dobson and Sausedo. Plus, younger players and senior outside hitter Jordyn Cosgrove have stepped up.
“Brittany, our setter, has been playing with me for so long. She knows everything, where to set people and where she is on the court,” Nations said. “Jordyn Cosgrove has improved so much this year and Ellie Sausedo made the transition from outside to middle and she’s been doing really good too.”
Once the season ends, Nations said she will concentrate on finding a college to continue playing volleyball at. Several schools have showed interest, and her recruiting will head up during the club volleyball season. She plays for the AZ Desert Sky club.
Nations said she wants to study either accounting or sports medicine in college. Her injury piqued her interest in sports medicine. Stoffey said she has the academics and the drive to succeed
She started playing at age 7, began club play at age 12. And Nations is having so much fun leading the rebuilt Peoria program, she doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.
“It’s so fun. We’re like a family. We work like a team and that’s why we have success. We know each other so well,” Nations said. “There’s no drama.”