Tuba City wins first state volleyball title
By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz., November 8, 2012
(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)
W hen Tuba City senior outside hitter Shiniya Henry scored the last two points on kills that bounced off Safford's double-blocks, Henry and the rest of the Lady Warriors dog piled each other and let out screams of joy, relief and tears.
Finally, after making consecutive Final Four appearances from 2008 to 2011, the No. 2 Tuba City Lady Warriors volleyball team achieved the ultimate feat - winning the 2012 Arizona Division III State Volleyball tournament here at Tim's Toyota Center last Saturday night.
The Lady Warriors swept No. 5 Safford Lady Bulldogs in three sets (25-18, 26-24, 25-21) to capture the school's first state volleyball title.
"We finally got it and I'm so happy," an elated Henry said. "All our hard work paid off. It took all of us, as a team, to get it."
Against Safford, Tuba City used a team effort and focused on shutting down New Mexico State University commit and junior outside hitter Jordan Abalos, who had a game high 24 kills, with double-blocking and defense.
"We played her in the Payson tournament and figured out a way to shut her down," Tuba City head coach Harlan Barlow said. "We knew that she was one of the key players and that if we shut her down we could shut the rest of the team down. We just attempted to put a block up, covering the angles, and make sure we were covering the block."
Despite Abalos' 24 kills, which clearly wasn't enough to counter the balance attack of Tuba City, Barlow credited libero Tinoa Huskie for digging and reading her hitting patterns.
"I told her this is her senior year, 'You're not going to get this game back. You have to pick everything up,'" he said. "And she did exactly that."
Besides Huskie's defensive game, Tuba City also had setter Kamia Yazzie register assists to outside hitters Kristen Becenti, middle hitter Rynell Natoney and Henry. All three combined for a total of 28 kills to Abalos' 24.
To get to the title game, Tuba City first had to beat No. 15 Empire in the first round, which they did in straight sets (25-8, 25-7, 25-9).
For most of the tournament, the Lady Warriors remained confident and in control with their crisp passing, except for a minor hiccup in the Elite 8 round against No. 10 Mingus, who had upset No. 7 Catalina in a first-round matchup.
The Lady Warriors needed four sets to fend off Mingus to reach their fifth consecutive Final Four, winning 25-20, 24-26, 25-19, 25-16 for a date with No. 11 Seton Catholic and defending Division III state champion in the semifinals.
In the Final Four against Seton Catholic, the Lady Sentinels lead for most of the first set until the wall of Becenti, Henry, Natoney and middle hitter Samytha Parish and passing from Huskie, Yazzie and Tate Tsingine became more effective and crisper, lifting Tuba City to victory. The Lady Warriors won the match with scores of 25-22, 25-9 and 25-22.
After beating No. 4 Monument Valley earlier in the day in four sets in the other semifinal, Safford head coach Jeanine Ward knew playing Tuba City for the state championship was going to be a battle.
"We know that their forte is they have great ball control. We know that," Ward said. "They're just the kind of team that you have go up, and hit the ball hard and stay excited and animated. That's what we had to do. We knew it was going to be tough."
For Barlow, who took over the coaching reigns from Evelyn Kiyaani in 2010, he called winning the elusive state title a "special feeling."
"We had to work hard for it," Barlow said, adding that offseason training and practices twice a day paid major dividends. "We played in a state championship game and we came out as state champions."
Barlow added about his team, "These girls are talented. They got two awesome setters, two awesome outsides and two awesome middles, a defensive player and we can't forget our bench. They were there for us, cheering us on, keeping the momentum..."
One of those awesome players Barlow speaks of is senior outside hitter Kristen Becenti. She had 12 kills, 1 block and 1 ace against Safford.
Becenti, who was sidelined with an injury in the beginning of the season, said having failed in the previous Final Fours was enough to keep her and her teammates motivated.
"Those Final Fours and that runner-up made us want to work harder," Becenti said. "Every single game, every single point, we were like, 'No more Final Fours. No more runner-ups.' We wanted this more than anything. To finish this, it was more motivation than anything."
Setter Camia Yazzie, who had tears streaming down her cheeks, said, "It's unbelievable. It feels like a dream I'm still trying to wake up from. It's so surreal. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of hard work."
Henry, who had 7 kills, including the last two to secure the title, added, "I'm really speechless right now because this is what we were working for all summer. We are state champs! Oh my god!"
The Lady Warriors finish with a record of 22-7.