Gilbert Tigers volleyball
Leading 26-25 in the fourth set, the Gilbert High School girls volleyball team were one point away from victory.
Following the serve, the twirling white volleyball drifted toward sophomore Raegan Richardson who sent the ball over the net, past the diving opponents, and straight into glossy court. The Gilbert varsity girls volleyball team screamed in excitement, hugging each other in celebration of their 3-1 defeat over the Sunnyslope Vikings.
“I just felt like to give my all no matter what, just not even play scared or anything. Just go up there and swing,” said Richardson.
The Tigers (6-0) defeat over the Vikings (2-3) ends a lengthy losing four game streak to Sunnyslope, dating back to 2019. 
Tigers have claws for a reason and the Gilbert Tigers used them on Wednesday night inside the Sunnyslope gymnasium. After falling 25-19 in the first set, Gilbert rallied back to win three consecutive sets.
“The energy was low at first but I feel at the end we all came together as a team, which kind of brought everybody up together,” Richardson said.
The rally came in large part to a mixture of high energy, timely blocking, and a never quit attitude.
“We scramble and scratch and claw,” head coach Joe Hesse said. “We can’t line up and punch and counter punch. It takes us more than one swing to score a point so we played well defensively.”
Throughout the four sets, both teams exchanged the lead 32 times and were tied on 31 occasions. The two squads were evenly matched as on multiple occasions the players torpedoed the ball to the opponent on lengthy back and forth plays.
Gilbert's never-give-up attitude was on full display in the final set when they trailed 21-24 to the Vikings. With the match point on the line, the Tigers withstood defeat by scoring three straight points. Vikings head coach Amber LeTarte called a timeout, allowing Hesse to huddle his team.
“Those’s more of a relaxation, calming kind of thing,” Hesse said. “We had a few things we were kicking on them a bit and our gameplan, we needed to stick to it.”
Tied 24-24, a crucial moment occurred when the Vikings sent the ball over the net and onto the court, seemingly putting them ahead by a point. As the Vikings celebrated the Tigers exclaimed that the ball was out of bounds which the official ruled was the case.
The Tigers had the lead for the first time since an 18-17 lead.
The journey to victory wasn’t over yet, as the Vikings quickly tied the game. A serve from Sunnyslopes Gergei Stein sailed out of bounds and redirected the momentum back toward Gilbert which they capitalized on with Richardsons kill. In the final set Richardson scored on two crucial moments.
Richardson finished the game with a team-high 18 Kills, averaging 4.5 a set.
Gilbert was dominant at times. In the second set the Tigers led the entire way, ultimately winning the set 25-18.
The Tigers Libero, McKenzie Schoenhardt leads the state in digs with 315 and
showcased her agility on Wednesday. On multiple occasions Schoenhardt kept the volley alive with outstretched dives and powerful passes, ending the night with 36 digs.
The victory over Sunnyslope is the first time the Tigers have defeated the Vikings since 2019. The Vikings have been a formidable team, winning multiple state championships in the last decade.
The added number in the win column is nice but this victory was extra sweet for the Tigers. Gilbert entered the 6A conference this year, meaning higher level competition. A win against Sunnyslope was a sign the team could compete in this conference.
“It means a lot because, for us to be able to play a high level team, high level volleyball, it just means we can play up to anybody's level so I think that was really big for us in how we prove ourselves,” Schoenhardt said.
Gilbert will stay on the road for their next matchup against the Desert Ridge Jaguars on September 21.

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira


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