The third-ranked Basha Bears girls volleyball program found themselves facing an uphill battle on Tuesday night at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, as they trailed top-seeded and district-rival Perry by two sets in the 6A Girls Volleyball State Championship.
But the Bears didn't let the deficit get to them, as they managed to force a decisive fifth set. Basha ultimately pulled out the victory in the final set of the match to defeat Perry 3-2 (14-25, 21-25, 32-30, 25-23, 15-10) and claim the 6A title.
“We have nothing but respect for that team, that program, those players," Basha coach Terri Spann said. "We know every point matters, so I just couldn’t be more proud.”
It was the third time this season that a match between Basha and Perry went to five sets. The two teams split the regular-season contests. On both occasions, however, it was the Pumas that had to play from behind. But Tuesday night's match was the first time either team came back from a two-set deficit.
Perry dominated the first two sets as junior middle blocker Makayla Long got off to a fast start with four kills at the net. Senior outside hitters Tatum Stall and Sian Richardson and junior outside hitter Ella Rud contributed greatly to the Pumas' offense and defense with 31 combined kills and six digs through the first two sets. It wasn’t until the third set when there was a true momentum shift that could be felt amongst everyone in the arena, as the Bears avoided a sweep with a score of 32-30.
Basha players said that a moment like that might be overwhelming for some, but for them, it was no big deal. Not only did they prepare to be in situations like that, but they worked hard to ensure their conditioning was up to speed so they could continue to fight.
Standout senior Jaelyn Hodge, whose 33 kills helped carry the team to the win, said that the victory was largely based on the team’s ability to trust in each other and their preparation, both mentally and physically.
“Great coaching and conditioning, and just working hard for every point,” Hodge said. She added, “Just being fearless and swinging through every ball and trusting your teammates,” were all keys to the Bears’ success.
It was a sentiment echoed by seniors Haley Carrington and Samantha Drewry.
“We’ve been there before, so I knew we could push it," said Carrington, who led the team with 22 digs. "We’ve gone into the 30s in sets and I knew that we could come back and we could get through, and we just needed to get into a position where we could strike and get the two points and get the set."
“We do drills like that all the time in practice," added Drewry, who had 26 kills and 11 digs. "Coming back from hard deficits, and 24-24 drills. So I knew we could do it, I knew as soon as we were in that position we could push through and win the set."
The two teams continued to trade blows in the fourth set, as neither was able to pull away. After several lead changes, Basha managed to force a decisive fifth set, sending Desert Financial Arena into a frenzy.
“I already knew at 0-0 in game 5 we were winning," Spann said. "You don’t go against Perry for five sets and just lay on the ground."
At this point, all of the momentum in the arena was in favor of Basha. There was a clear feeling of determination, excitement and confidence from the Bears and they immediately showed it.
Basha jumped out to an early lead in the final set and never looked back. The Bears continued to play stifling defense, while Hodge dominated on the offensive side of the net. Leading 14-10 and needing just one point to claim the title, the Bears stuck to their game plan that has been intact all season.
An assist soared to the far side of the net where Hodge awaited. She connected with the ball, sending it to the opposite side of the court. Perry had no answer. Chaos ensued as Basha players stormed the court to celebrate the championship win.
“It just came down to the heart and the desire to want to win," Carrington said. "It just really started to kick in and we started coming back and from there, I think it just helped the whole team to continue fighting."
The emotional win was special for Basha. But perhaps even more so was the fact that each girl bought into the process and created a special bond which helped claim the state title.
“These girls are my best friends," Carrington said. "I think it’s just the best way for our goodbye and I’m so in love with this team."