Ironwood Ridge senior Rachel Synkelma slammed a kill to the floor to lock up a 3-1 (26-24, 24-26, 25-23, 25-13) win over visiting Glendale Deer Valley on Thursday night.
Not only did it keep the Nighthawks unbeaten in the playoffs, but it sends them to the Division II semifinals for the fifth time in six years.
No. 4 I-Ridge (29-12) will face top-seeded Flagstaff in Gilbert on Saturday.
Synkelma's kill from the middle capped off a dominant fourth set for the Nighthawks who went on a 10-2 run after falling behind 1-0 at the start.
"I saw it was a free ball, and that's a good play for the middle," Synkelma said. "I was screaming for the ball, and I saw no one was there so it wasn't coming back."
I-Ridge never even came close to trailing again in that set and had another 10-2 run later. Nighthawks coach Bill Lang said he rearranged his lineup before that set.
"That was the difference," he said. "It changed all the matchups."
However, the first three sets were all close battles.
The teams virtually matched each other point for point for most of the first set until I-Ridge sophomore Sarah Gosciminski fired off back-to-back kills to win it.
Then the Nighthawks had a tight lead for most of the second set until Deer Valley tied it at 24 and then scored two straight points to win.
I-Ridge struggled early in the third set and fell behind 13-9. But from there, the Nighthawks went on a 10-3 run to take a 19-16 lead before sophomore Aunesty Jantz had a kill to win the set. Both Jantz and Gosciminski finished with 16 kills. Jantz also led the team with 12 digs.
"We were all in rhythm," Jantz said. "We all worked together and played for each other. We did not play for ourselves, and that helped out a lot."
Jantz also said the I-Ridge student section helped out. Deer Valley was serving right next to it in the final set and appeared to be distracted.
"It was so loud, it was unbelievable," she said. "I'm really happy everyone made it out."
Although the Skyhawks had more size than I-Ridge, Lang said speed is what made the difference, and he's hoping it can be an advantage Saturday.
"Speed kills," Lang said. "We knew they were big and physical, but we also knew that we are faster and have better ball control."