PHOENIX — As hard as winning the school’s first state volleyball title might have been, Salpointe Catholic’s much-accomplished seniors found something more difficult.
“It was really difficult, it tested us a lot more, it tested our strength as a team, it tested our chemistry, it tested our resilience,” outside hitter Alanna Duarte said. “It tested everything.”
The Lancers (34-6) passed the test on Thursday night, outlasting Peoria Sunrise Mountain 3-2 (24-26, 25-23, 25-18, 22-25, 15-13) to win their second straight Class 4A state volleyball title.
But the final, at Mountain Pointe High School in the Ahwatukee area of Phoenix, was in doubt from the outset. Third-seeded Salpointe seemed to get early momentum but fell in the opening set against fourth-seeded Sunrise Mountain.
“Sometimes we are playing a little tentatively because obviously all the pressure was on us to repeat and they wanted to take it from us,” setter Peyton Lewis said. “But I think the main thing was we were a little hesitant, a little tentative. That’s what was holding us back.”
A year ago, the Lancers, a No. 6 seed, beat Phoenix Greenway to win its first state volleyball title.
Coming into Thursday’s championship match, Salpointe had only dropped one set in the postseason. The Lancers were not down for long.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Lewis said. “The greatest thing was we were able to overcome all of that adversity. It really strengthened us, it showed us we could accomplish anything.”
Salpointe found its rhythm, with Lewis finding Duarte (12 kills) and opposite Madison Sundholm and in the third set, freshman Andrea Owens had a trio of key kills and five in the game to put the Lancers up 2-1. But Sunrise Mountain (29-9) used its net game to outscore Salpointe 6-3 down the stretch of game four to force the decider.
The teams were tied at 4 in the final set when the official reversed a call on a tip in the Lancers’ favor.
The momentum turned: Salpointe grabbed a 7-4 lead only to see the Mustangs take advantage of a few unforced errors to tie it at 7.
Duarte found her swing again and the Lancers took a 12-9 advantage. The teams then traded points until the end.
During the seniors’ run, Salpointe reached the postseason each year, getting eliminated in the quarterfinals in 2014 and the semifinals in 2015. While the seniors were in the eighth grade, the Lancers lost in the first round of the state tourney, in 2013.
Prior to 2016, Salpointe’s only other appearance in the volleyball title match was a loss to Safford in 1970.
“It was really, really hard, because you don’t know how to think or what to say, you don’t really want to talk about it,” coach Heather Moore-Martin said. “The girls, just the resilence, the resolve, the fortitude, incredible. They put a lot of pressure on us. We were doing weird things because they were so good.”
Moore-Martin won state boys’ volleyball championships at Catalina in 2010 and 2011.
The Salpointe boys’ volleyball team has reached the state title match twice, in 2001 and 2011, but lost both times.