High schools girls volleyball: Now that's a sound approach

Noisy student section provides Nighthawks with 'so much energy'
2012-10-12T00:00:00Z High schools girls volleyball: Now that's a sound approachDaniel Gaona Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 12, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Most volleyball teams have six players on the court at a time.

Ironwood Ridge has seven.

The Nighthawks' student section, known as the "7th Man," gives the team an extra advantage at home.

That was especially true Tuesday night when it helped I-Ridge rally to beat undefeated Scottsdale Notre Dame, the top-ranked team in Division II, in five sets.

"They give so much energy and are so loud," junior setter Hana Peterman said. "They give opponents a lot of stress. They make them cry sometimes."

With the win, the 300th for the program, the Nighthawks improved to 89-12 in their volleyball-only facility that was labeled as one of ESPN's "Houses of Horror" a year ago. Their last home loss to a Southern Arizona opponent was in October 2006.

The Star recently attended two I-Ridge home matches and sat down with coach Bill Lang to find out what makes the team's home court so special:

The house

When the girls volleyball team qualified for the 4A state tournament for the first time in 2003, Lang gave his team the option of playing in the main gym or the auxiliary gym - where it had played its first two varsity seasons.

After the Nighthawks beat 10th-seeded Glendale Cactus in five sets in the auxiliary gym, they had a home for good.

"From then on, the mystique was born," Lang said.

The school painted a 6-foot blue border around the court for the next season. They went 10-0 at home and made an appearance in the state title game.

Lang said he wanted to make the smaller auxiliary gym a volleyball-only facility from the start.

Notre Dame coach James Felton said the gym is one of the loudest he's seen in his six years of coaching. He also said the student section helps the home team more than it hurts the visiting team.

"The crowd gave them a boost," Felton said. "It's a great volleyball gym - small and intimate."

The crowd

Normal games draw about 200 people, but the bigger ones attract 300 or more. Either way, the fans are right on top of the action.

"They are literally 10 feet away from the court," Lang said. "There's nowhere for the players to run and hide."

The student section, which is usually around 100 Nighthawks deep, is set up in the southwest corner of the gym and directed by senior state champion wrestlers Troy Taylor and Matt Filbert, who head the school's spirit society.

"I've been told by people from other schools that they're jealous of our school spirit," Filbert said.

Many fans wear No. 7 jerseys to represent the seventh man on the court. I-Ridge always starts the match on the same side as the student section so opponents have to deal with it in the second set and possibly in the fourth or fifth sets.

Notre Dame lost all three sets it played from the same side as the student section. Taylor, wearing a pair of spandex shorts, tried to distract the Saints by singing, dancing and even doing cartwheels.

Salpointe senior Haley Howell said she's learned to block out the crowd throughout her career and has fun playing at I-Ridge, but the "7th Man" got to her last month.

"I've been struggling with my serves this year so I've been trying to focus, but they're all screaming," Howell said afterward. "It's hard, it's like an obstacle, but I try to overcome it."

Added Notre Dame's Juliana Brutsche: "I could tell the crowd was huge, but I didn't want to pay attention. It was loud, the sound radiated through the gym."

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