With the state tournament less than a month away, the Ironwood Ridge girls volleyball team is running out of regular-season goals to cross off its checklist.
The top-ranked Nighthawks (26-6) will have a chance to scratch another when they travel north to take on powerhouse Chandler Hamilton. It’ll be a showdown: Ironwood Ridge is the top team in Division II, while the Huskies are ranked second in Division I.
Of I-Ridge’s remaining eight matches before the postseason, the Huskies (20-3) should provide the Nighthawks with their best look at what playing a team deep in the state tournament might look like.
The Star recently caught up with the Nighthawks to take a look at how they have fared against tough competition and how they have been getting tournament-ready:
San Diego Fall Classic
The Nighthawks started the season in September with a trip to the San Diego Fall Classic, complete with hotel stays, beach trips and team dinners that brought teammates closer together.
On the court, I-Ridge’s weaknesses with serve-receive and composure were exposed as the team finished 5-2. A bright side, though, was senior setter and captain Hana Peterman, who was named to the all-tournament team.
“At critical times, we were falling short,” coach Bill Lang said. “It reinforced what we needed to work on and showed us we were a lot further away than we thought.”
Westwood Tournament of Champions
Two weeks after the trip west, I-Ridge took what it had learned and headed north for the 37-team Westwood Tournament of Champions in Mesa.
A loss to D-II No. 4 Phoenix Sunnyslope nearly derailed the Nighthawks’ first day, but they picked up back-to-back wins against Scottsdale Saguaro and Tempe Corona del Sol, beating both in the decisive third set.
The next day, I-Ridge lost in three sets to Phoenix Mountain Pointe, now ranked eighth in D-I, and they were encouraged by its ninth-place finish.
The Nighthawks went 5-2 despite missing starting outside hitter Mykaela Hammer, who was on an official recruiting visit to Montana. Junior Sarah Gosciminski, Hammer’s backup, stepped in and made the all-tournament team.
“It made us realize we can play like that all the time,” Gosciminski said. “We don’t just have to fill in.”
Goldwater Volleyball Festival
With one final tournament tuneup before state, I-Ridge was back in Phoenix over the weekend for the Goldwater Volleyball Festival.
The Nighthawks swept their first four matches, including wins over Peoria Liberty, Glendale Ironwood and Queen Creek, all three of which are in the top 20 of D-II. I-Ridge ended the day with a 2-1 loss to Glendale Cactus, the No. 3 team in D-III, but made their third of three winner’s brackets on the season.
I-Ridge lost to Division I Centennial in three sets in the second day but bounced back with a pair of wins, including a 2-1 victory over D-I No. 12 Glendale Mountain Ridge led by Hammer and fellow senior Kennedy Kurtz.
“Even though we lost to Centennial in the third set 15-13, we won the first set in a blowout,” Kurtz said. “I thought that was an indicator we could compete with anyone. When we get to state, I think we’ll win games like that.”