The Mesa Jackrabbits defeated Red Mountain Tuesday night in straight sets during the Mountain Lion’s Childhood Cancer Awareness game. The scores were 25-18, 25-15, and 25-7.
This was the second match between the two teams this season. The Jackrabbits won both.
On a positive note for the Mountain Lions, they honored Zandra Wade and children everywhere fighting cancer.
There were hand-made signs by players hanging throughout the gym, saying, “LOVE4Z” and “Her Fight is Our Fight.” Gold, the color for childhood cancer could be seen all over the gym. Spectators wore gold shirts, players from both sides were wearing gold ribbons in their hair and gold balloons were in the stands.
Before the game, the Mountain Lions brought Wade, a junior who is battling sarcoma, on to the court. The announcer then read quotes from every player on the team on what Wade meant to them as the players handed her flowers. Wade was described as a symbol of positivity by at least five players on the team.
Making this night happen was a top priority for Red Mountain coach Kristy Simmons.
“I wanted to do something for Z so this childhood cancer awareness was perfect,” Simmons said.
At the conclusion of the ceremony the Red Mountain public address announcer has inspiring words for Wade.
"Everyone who knows Zandra cannot deny she is a bright light radiating joy and happiness even through life’s challenges," he said. "Our hope is that we can all learn from her example and to be more like Z.”
The first set started out back and forth. There were both long volleys and multiple lead changes until the Jackrabbits went on a 11-4 run to finish out the set. Mesa never looked back.
“I really enjoyed watching us play tonight," Mesa coach Amy Strawn said. "We played a lot crisper than we did the last time we were out. Really aggressive and got some good swings in that was good for us. We needed that, we had a bad loss on Thursday. It was a good win for us to bounce back.”
Simmons was frustrated with her team’s play.
“We had a game plan in mind for this and we just couldn’t execute it,” Simmons said.
The second set opened with the Jackrabbits going on a 12-2 run led by the serves from Jazlyn Jackson, who had 4 aces.
“I think once we got the lead they were a little more aggressive with their serves,” Strawn said, “they didn’t look as tentative so they just went after it.”
The Mountain Lions struggled with receiving serves all match as the Jackrabbits tallied 18 aces. Brianna Beck provided six of those. Roma McEvoy also provided 5 aces and 16 digs to go along with it.
“We just served super well and were just super aggressive,” said Mesa setter Kate Hatch, who had 30 assists. “I think we finished strong.”
The Jackrabbits were able to continue their momentum into the third set and blew it open with a 19-4 run.
“Its hard to come back after losing,” Simmons said. “I think we just got down so far we couldn’t recover from it.”
Strawn said Simmons had told her earlier in the season about the Childhood Cancer Awareness night they had planned. Strawn said they were happy to participate in this event and wanted to come with yellow ribbons to “show Z the volleyball world loves her and supports her.”
The night was bigger than just another high school volleyball game. Teams in the same region came together to support a cause much bigger than themselves, and despite Red Mountain’s loss, the Mountain Lions still consider themselves winners because they have Wade as their teammate.
Red Mountain plays again on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Westwood High School.
Kaylee Connors is a sports journalism student and Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism covering Red Mountain High School athletics.