Arizona Division IV volleyball: Pinon, Ganado, Greyhills make cut
By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
WINDOW ROCK, November 1, 2012
(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)
U nlike most teams who play club volleyball during the offseason, members of the Pinion Lady Eagles volleyball team play recreationally outside on dirt volleyball courts.
Their offseason training, if considered one at all, combined with their practice during the season and passion for volleyball helped the Lady Eagles go undefeated in the regular season and earn their first playoff berth in program history.
"This is the first time in history we have gone undefeated and to state," said Pinion head coach Nellie McCurtain. "I feel so proud of the girls because we work so hard every day. It paid off."
Today, the Lady Eagles, seeded No. 9, play against No. 8 Tempe Prep in the 2012 Arizona Division IV Girls State Volleyball tournament at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Ariz. Game time is at 5 p.m.
In addition to Pinion, the 16-team tournament also includes No. 10 Ganado Lady Hornets and No. 13 Greyhills Academy Lady Knights. Ganado plays No. 7 Round Valley at 5 p.m. and Greyhills plays No.4 Thatcher at 7 p.m.
The Division IV championship game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 3 at 6 p.m.
Despite completing the regular season undefeated with a 16-0 record and being only one of four teams undefeated in Division IV, the Lady Eagles earned the No. 9 seed.
"I wish we were a little higher or lower," McCurtain said. "We are playing a team that is even. They're going to be tough as us."
Based on her preliminary scouting report, McCurtain said No. 8 Tempe Prep has a slew of players that are at least 5'8, including two hitters standing at 5'11 and 5'10.
"That is all I know about them today," she said in a phone interview with the Navajo Times on Tuesday, adding that as game time on Thursday arrives she'll have a better grasp of their opponent. "Hopefully, we'll match up with them."
But if there is anything positive about this No. 8 and No. 9 matchup, McCurtain is confident in her team will show-up to play
"With the young team I have they're going to be focused on playing," she said. "It's a passion for them. They love to play volleyball."
According to McCurtain, her team's passion for volleyball developed from them playing recreational volleyball on dirt courts over the summer.
"Right now, I can see their mind on the court and they love to play volleyball," she said. "We have girls play outside on the dirt ground playing all summer."
"They would play up until midnight," said McCurtain, who would often observe on the sidelines. "They just played all summer in those tournaments. That to me has given me the confidence."
Along with confidence, McCurtain said she is emphasizing the importance of team defense.
"I'm trying to really pay attention to their passing, picking up the hard hits and blocking," she said. "We've been working on our service and defense."
And if the Lady Eagles stick to those strategies, McCurtain is optimistic they could advance into the quarterfinals against No.1 Northwest Christian or No. 16. St. Johns.
"I just want to them to get past the first round and take it one game at a time," McCurtain said.
Ganado head coach Jerome Burns is excited to be back in the state playoffs this year – a feat his program didn't accomplish last season.
"Last year we used power rankings and this year we used Max Preps," he said about AIA's new ranking system. "In the end, I'm glad we were in the top 16."
In sectional play, which the AIA measures for state seeding, the Lady Hornets went 13-3. Despite losing twice to Division III powerhouses Monument Valley and Tuba City, their record in sectional play was good enough to secure them the No. 10 seed in the 16-team bracket.
"It's not an easy schedule," Burns said. "We are a small Division IV team, but we still play the big dogs."
As the No. 10 seed, the Lady Hornets play No.7 Round Valley in the opening round.
"If history tells me, Round Valley is a solid team," he said. "We don't know what they're like. What I heard from some of the coaches is they're a solid team."
Burns said in order for the Lady Hornets to prevail in the first round and advance possibly to the championship game – they have to communicate and play defense.
"We are a small team and have to play good defense," he said, adding, "Our players have get out there and play volleyball. We hope that all the work we put in will pay off."
Teammates Nicole Curley, a middle hitter who leads the team in kills, and setter Latisha Tsosie, agree with their coach's assessment.
"I just think defense and communicating together on the floor will help us get to the next round," Curley said.
Because the Lady Hornets didn't make the playoff cut last year, Tsosie said the Lady Hornets are hungrier than the last few years.
"I think we'll do pretty good," she said. "We're ready to play and keep focus."
If the Lady Hornets win in the first round, they will advance to the quarterfinals and play the winner of No. 2. Valley Christian or No. 15 Paradise Honors on Friday at 6 p.m.
A victory in the quarterfinals would put them in the semifinals on Saturday at 11 a.m. and thereafter in the championship game at 6 p.m.
With a 14-3 record in Section I play, the Greyhills Academy Lady Knights managed to secure the No. 13 seed and earn the right to play No. 4 Thatcher.
"I know they will be good competition," Greyhills head coach Richard Grey said about his scouting report on Thatcher. "From what I see it's going to be a good match."
Grey also said he was happy with his team's state berth, saying it confirms the consistency of the Lady Knights' volleyball program.
"We have always been in the top 16 in Division IV and with some stabilization I am glad to be in the top 16 in Division IV in the state of Arizona."
If Greyhills defeats Thatcher, they would advance to the quarterfinals and faceoff with either No. 5 Parker or No. 12 Yuma Catholic. A victory in the quarterfinals would put the Lady Knights in the semifinals, possibly even against No.9 Pinion.
To advance farther than the first round, Grey said, requires his team to show intensity and skill.
"A lot of the skills that come out on the court that you don't see in practice comes down to athleticism," he said. "Intensity carries a long way with mental preparation and application."
Asked how he feels about being one of three Navajo schools qualifying for the Division IV tournament, Grey responded, saying, "I'm jus happy to be one of three. I'm glad to see Ganado and Pinion there. They got good records."
"We'll do our best," he said about his team. "I think it's going to be a great learning experience for all of us. We look forward to playing."