Mesquite High School’s beach volleyball program, fresh off its first state title in program history in 2019, was eager to defend its trophy last spring in pursuit of back-to-back championships.
Then, COVID hit.
The virus forced the cancellation of the 2020 spring season. The cancellation forced Mesquite, among other teams, to conduct virtual workouts in an effort to keep the spirits high in hopes of competing the next year. Overall, it was not how the Wildcats pictured a year that was supposed to be their quest at holding up another championship trophy.
“Our seniors suffered so much last year,” Flys said. “Mesquite beach is my paradise, it’s my little bit of sunshine. We didn’t have any sunshine last year. I brought them out here for their last practice and told them to just play and have fun.
“In the back of my mind I knew it would be the last time they played together.”
With the virus already forcing the closure of schools last year, Flys knew it was only a matter of time before sports were shut down, too. That day first came March 16 when the AIA suspended spring sports but hesitated to announce a full cancellation. But on March 30, the cancellation became official.
The news was not taken lightly by anyone in the program and was especially hard for seniors like Daniyah Jehangir, who is now an assistant coach with the program.
Jehangir was one-half of Mesquite’s No. 2 pair in 2019. Against Fountain Hills in the Division II state championship, it was Jehangir’s pairing that clinched the title for the Wildcats.
It was a special moment that she still cherishes to this day. Especially after losing her senior season.
“It felt never-ending, it felt amazing,” Jehangir said. “Having my team score that point, it was the best feeling ever. When the season was canceled, I was super disappointed. It was just a sad feeling overall.”
Her love for the Mesquite program is what drew her to become an assistant coach this season. While she helps out at the varsity level, she is the head coach of the junior varsity, which has started 5-0 so far this season.
Mesquite’s varsity team currently stands at 6-1, with its only loss coming against Salpointe Catholic in a 3-2 match in which the Wildcats were forced to forfeit a game due to injury.
Jehangir cherishes the opportunity to help lead a group of girls she became close with during her time playing for the program. And while winning a title as a player will always hold the most value, she hopes to have the same success as a coach this season.
“I want to make a difference,” Jehangir said. “I tell the girls all the time not to take this for granted and to cherish these moments. It’s super important to me that they’re even in the sand. As a coach, I would love to see them win the second title. I’m so proud of how they’ve grown.”
There are some key differences that set this year’s team apart from the 2019 squad. Along with the overall height difference as this year’s team has more size, there’s also an extra level of motivation after seeing how easy it was last year for a season to be taken away.
But according to senior captain Annika Wallace, who has been part of the program since she was a freshman, the main difference this season is the program’s confidence in knowing they can make yet another run and hunger to do it again.
“One of the biggest things with the 2019 team was the devotion,” Wallace said. “I think we are getting back to that point. We’re confident, we know we can get back to that point.”
Wallace was key for the Wildcats during the COVID shutdown. She helped orchestrate virtual workouts for her team and while unable to do so in person, began teaching the younger girls entering the program what the standard was for Mesquite beach volleyball.
To her, setting up the virtual sessions wasn’t something she was required to do as a captain. It was something she genuinely thought would help ease the stress and frustration that came with the canceled season.
“For me, I was having a rough time and I just wanted to make sure my teammates were doing OK,” Wallace said. “The biggest thing I’ve always been taught is to lead by example and I thought if I were to do it then they would follow my lead. That way we would all get through it together even if we couldn’t be in person.”
So far this season, Mesquite is following a similar path it did to the championship in 2019.
The Wildcats opened with a tough opponent before going on to play competition they’re expected to beat. That has led to a five-match win streak, all in the form of shutouts. Later in the season, however, Mesquite will face the likes of Arcadia, a contender this year in Division I, and Valley Christian, which is currently undefeated.
Flys refers to those games as tune ups before the postseason tournament begins. He knows if his team wants to have a chance at winning the title again, it will take continuous growth every match and get through teams of that caliber for added momentum in the playoffs.
“This is a team with a lot of confidence,” Flys said. “They know we should be in the mix for state. Pressure is a privilege. They’ve earned it. I think they see it that way and they seem to like it.”