Catalina Foothills volleyball coach David Thistle was steaming after Wednesday night's five-set loss to visiting Ironwood Ridge, and for good reason.
Despite outscoring the Nighthawks 103-93 overall, and getting a combined 48 kills from Foothills star hitters Tolu Obafemi and Andrew Magill, the Falcons dropped six of the final seven points in the fifth set, and Ironwood Ridge won 3-2 (25-21, 14-25, 25-23, 14-25, 15-9).
"For as physical as we are, we're not very mentally strong," Thistle vented. "Look at the scores. How do you beat a team 25-14 in two of the sets and then not come out to play in the other sets?
"That's really frustrating."
It was the second time the schools had played one another this season, with Ironwood Ridge winning in five sets on March 6 as well.
"They have two players that are just legit, Division I-class of Tucson players," Ironwood Ridge coach Bill Lang said of Obafemi and Magill. "But I think we have a deeper lineup all the way around. So I think those two factors were battling."
Obafemi finished with a season-high 27 kills, including three to kick off the fifth set. The Falcons actually led the fifth 6-3 before running into what Thistle called "mental struggles."
A Foothills point which would have tied the set at 9 was reversed due to an illegal touch and Ironwood Ridge took a 10-8 lead.
The Falcons couldn't rebound from the disappointment.
"We know it's a mental thing for us," Obafemi said. "We're actually doing some mental training in practice now to help us get better."
The mental approach is something Lang has long stressed to his teams.
"If you watch my team, we don't play with a lot of emotion," he said. "That's something by design."
If the Falcons can clear the mental cobwebs, "I think they're definitely a top eight team," Lang said.
"They have physical guys that nobody else has in the state. We, on the other hand, have to just really hope to play well together as a team."
The Nighthawks (7-0) and Falcons (5-2) came into the match ranked Nos. 3 and 4 in the state, respectively, but neither coach was too confident that those rankings are an accurate portrayal of reality.
"It's still very, very early," Thistle said. "I think we were fortunate to be where we were considering we'd only played six matches."
As for Ironwood Ridge, "we've already played them twice, unfortunately," Thistle said. "We'd love another one, two, three, four … as many shots as we can take at them."