Glendale Arena hosts volleyball finals tonight.
One team that isn’t concerned with when they’re playing is Deer Valley.
Coach Reda Riddle and the Skyhawks don’t much care who is on the other side of the net from them either.
"If we defend like we’re capable we can beat anybody," the ninth-year coach said.
Fresh off beating Mountain Ridge, the defending state champions, in the Northwest Region tournament final Saturday, the No. 3 seeded Skyhawks coasted to a win over No. 14 Tolleson in the first round of the 5A Div-II state tournament Wednesday night.
In a match that was never in doubt, the Skyhawks (32-12) advanced to tonight’s quarterfinals with a 25-10, 25-14 win.
Senior Sarah Wells, who had seven kills and 14 digs, said she and her teammates were ready from the start.
"We felt confident because we’ve prepared well," she said. "Our passing, our serve receive and our serving have all been strengths for us this season and they were that way again tonight. Our defense is going to be the key in this tournament."
On Wednesday there wasn’t much need for defense against a 10-17 Tolleson team that couldn’t mount any kind of offensive attack.
Deer Valley acknowledged they’ll have to take their game up a notch tonight at Glendale Arena where they will take on No. 6 Peoria (22-14) in a 10 p.m. match.
"They’re a pretty good team, but we’ve beat them before," said senior setter Shaleen Knight, who had a team high 14 assists. "Everybody thinks that it’s going to be Ironwood (No. 2 seed) and Desert Mountain (No. 1) in the finals, but we’re going to surprise them. We don’t mind being the underdog, but we know we have a strong defense and defense wins championships."
Before they can get a crack at Ironwood, who is in the other quarterfinal match in the bottom half of the bracket, Deer Valley will have to beat a Panthers squad that eliminated No. 11 Kofa in two straight games, 25-15, 25-17.
For the Panthers and coach Robyn McDowell the win was a long time coming.
"We’re excited, that’s the first time in four years we were able to advance past the first round," the fifth year coach said. "We came out more focused than we have in a long time and our passing was flawless."
Seniors Audie Gonzalez and middle Melissa Harper continue to lead the way for the Panthers however McDowell said Nicole Stowers said stepped up her play of late.
McDowell said there are a couple of keys for her team to beat Deer Valley and continue its quest for a state title.
"We’re going to have to neutralize their outside hitters," McDowell said. "They were tough in the match they beat us, but our defense is generally solid and we’re going to throw them a bit of a surprise. It also comes down to us passing well so we can terminate balls. You can only go so far by being good defensively."
The Ironwood Eagles (31-7) return to the quarterfinals for the second straight year looking to get to the semifinals for the first time since 1995, the last time they won a state championship.
Ironwood dispatched No. 15 North Canyon, taking out the Rattlers 25-12, 25-12 Wednesday as the Desert West Region champions rebounded from Saturday’s loss to Centennial in the region tournament title game.
"Hopefully tonight got us back in the swing of things," Eagles coach Kathy Wilson said. "It’s door-die time and we came out with some fire."
Leading the way was junior Sarah Reaves who recorded 13 kills.
"Our whole front line played well," said the Ironwood coach who will face Sandra Day O’Connor.
In a battle to determine the real Eagles, Ironwood will have to take out the No. 7 seeded Eagles, who improved to 17-12 on the season with a 25-6, 25-18 win over No. 10 Marana Mountain View (29-14).
On the top half of the bracket No. 1 Desert Mountain, a 25-10, 25-14 first round winner, will face No. 8 Kingman, who survived a three game match by outlasting Marcos de Niza 28-26 in the deciding game.
The other matchup pits two Peoria district schools that know each other all too well. While No. 4 Centennial (26-10) beat No. 5 Sunrise Mountain (23-13) in two three-game matches in Desert West Region play, Mustangs coach Deb Moore would gladly settle for beating the Coyotes one out of three times.
"It should be interesting to see what the pressure of the state tournament will do to the rivalry but I have every reason to believe it will be another close match," she said. "We’re cautiously optimistic. This team has a good head on its shoulders, but I’m also counting on them having some fire in their belly because they’ve been so close against this team and believe they can beat them."
Sunrise Mountain, which won its second state match in school history, the first since 1999, Wednesday with a 25-17, 25-14 decision over No. 12 Paradise Valley (8-20), knows the key to success against Centennial is slowing down senior middle Dana Edington.
"She’s just a phenomenal player," Moore said. "But you have to take advantage when she goes to the back row, because when she’s at the net, even though we have a good defense, she’s tough to stop."
Edington registered 11 kills in the Coyotes 25-19, 25-21 win over No. 13 Shadow Mountain (9-29) which came on the heals of Centennial’s upset of Ironwood in the Desert West Region championship match Saturday.
"We’re playing our best right now," Carly Bourland said. "Everything clicked for us Saturday. Beating Ironwood gave the girls a lot of confidence."
Along with Edington, their star, Bourland said the play of senior middle Sammy Piazza and libero Kerri Duguid has been crucial.
"I think we’re a challenging team to play because of our style," Bourland said. "It seems that so many of the teams in the tournament run their offense through their outside hitters. We’ll go to them as well, but the strength of our offense is in the middle and that’s not something teams are accustomed to."
Tonight’s four winners have little time to savor their accomplishments as they’ll be back on the court Saturday at 10:30 a.m. for the semifinals. The state champion will be crowned in a 2 p.m. match.
In the 5A Div-I tournament the Mountain Ridge Mountain Lions bid to repeat as state champions got off to a solid start as the No. 4 seeded squad from Glendale bagged No. 13 Basha 25-19, 25-13.
"We played real well the first game," Devenney said. "We probably had an eight or nine point lead for most of it. We came out a little flat in the second game and they were playing hard, but we were able to get the job done."
With the win Mountain Ridge advanced to tonight’s quarterfinal against No. 4 Salpointe, in the third showdown between the two team this year.
"We’ve beaten them both times, but we’ve had to play well in both cases to do so," said Devenney who has guided his team to at least the semifinals each of the last three seasons.
Along with a tenacious defense, that has been the staple of Devenney team’s during his reign at Mountain Ridge, the Mountain Lions plan to ride the hot hand offensively.
"We’re not going to be able to count on one player dominating," Devenney said. "We’ll mix it up offensively and as long as we have everybody contributing there’s no reason anybody should be surprised if we end up winning this."
While the 5A Div-II tournament will have its semifinals and finals on Saturday, the 5A Div-I tournament will feature its quarterfinals and semifinals tonight before settling the championship at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Should Mountain Ridge defeat Salpointe in a 5:30 p.m. match they’ll likely square off with the top seed Xavier in the semifinals, set for 10 p.m.
After an impressive regular season, under first year coach Lindsay Patterson, the Cactus Cobras (21-16) campaign came to a close Tuesday as the tenth-seeded team from Glendale fell to No. 7 Ironwood Ridge 25-20, 25-16.