First to four.
After nearly two hours of exhausting, back-and-forth play, a trip to the 6A Conference girls volleyball finals hinged on a race to four points between No. 3 Corona del Sol and No. 2 Xavier Prep.
The message in the Corona huddle: “Go and take it.”
And the Aztecs did, surging past Xavier to win 15-11 in the fifth and deciding game of the 6A semifinals Tuesday at Mesquite High.
Corona del Sol (38-5) had allowed Xavier (34-7) to climb back into the match after winning the first two games by 25-23 and 25-18 scores. Xavier prevailed 25-18 and 25-15 in Games 3 and 4 to even things up, and jumped out to an 11-9 lead in Game 5 before Corona rattled off six straight points to close the match.
“I think after the first two sets, we underestimated them,” Corona captain Brooke Nuneviller said. “We were so excited that we started playing a little tentative. They didn’t have the best couple of games (to start), but they bounced back and going into that fifth game, we knew we were going to have to battle to win.”
Nuneviller was her usual force from the outside Tuesday, racking up 18 kills to lead the Aztecs. Middle blocker Lauren Forte contributed 13 kills, including the game-winning blast that sent Corona to the championship match, which will be played at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at Mesquite, against the winner of Tuesday’s late match between top-seeded Hamilton and No. 5 Mountain Pointe.
Corona won its only championship in girls volleyball in 1991 but has finished as the state runner-up seven times, including twice since Maxfield was hired in 2006.
After watching his team’s rise this season, which included a victory over Hamilton in the finals of the Westwood Tournament of Champions, as well as an impressive runner-up showing at the national Nike Tournament of Champions, the coach feels this group could be the one to bring home a banner.
“We’ve been talking about it all year – just grind and grind and good things will happen, because you’re a good team,” Maxfield said. “I think we finally have all the weapons. We’ve had good teams, but (this year) at every position we’re solid, and that makes a difference.”
*Killian is a Tempe-based freelancer.