After coming through in the clutch two win two games in extra play against Snowflake in its Saturday afternoon semifinal, 3A top seed Northwest Christian seemed a bit shell shocked when the roles were reversed.
Junior Kailey McMahon’s fifth kill of game one earned a 26-24 finish for No. 3 Fountain hills. From there, the Falcons completely dominated the 3A state final at North High School, taking the next two games 25-12 and 25-19.
Fountain Hills (36-9) did not serve an abnormal amount of aces, but the quality of their serves across the board knocked the Northwest Christian (27-7) transition game off kilter.
“They pretty much served us off the court. Their serving is what got them the win. We couldn’t play our game or transition game and get a kill,” Northwest Christian Coach Jenna Hope said.
Sophomore setter Alyssa Barbagallo served 11 straight points to break the second game wide open for the Falcons, building a 18-7 lead.
But she was not the only Fountain Hills player to get into the act. Coach Peter McGloin said he is willing to sacrifice accuracy at times for the pressure an aggressive serve can create.
“We like to play aggressive and I’ve got confidence that we can make other teams play out of their system. We don’t want to send lollipops over and watch them shove it down our throats,” Coach McGloin said. “We want to be the ones controlling tempo and throwing punches. We have to serve a aggressive and there were matches when we missed a lot of serves.”
When Fountain Hills’ serving was not leading directly to points McMahon and fellow junior Amary Freyer-Melk were finishing at the net.
McMahon led all players with 17 kills while Freyer-Melk added 15.
“They’ve had bigger games but not in a bigger moment,” McGloin said. ‘Regardless of how sharp we were, they were hitting and making kills and putting ourselves in good spots.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Cook led the Crusaders with eight kills.
Coach Hope is in her first year leading the varsity, but was the junior varsity and even junior high coach for most of her young roster. She said she would not have changed a thing about this year, as tonight’s disappointment is another chance for the young players to learn.
Lexi Liles is the only senior on the roster and the only Crusader in school in 2013, when the program claimed its last title.
“Lexi is a solid person that always has a positive outlook. She always has a kind and encouraging word. She unifies us and has great character,” Coach Hope said.
That 2013 championship was the sixth in 11 seasons. Beth Lemke, coach for the last three of those titles, retired after that year.
But with five sophomores and freshman Zoe Dalessandri seeing significant time in the playoffs, this year could be the start of Northwest Christian’s next generation of great volleyball.
“They don’t want to feel like they do right now ever again. I think that will be motivation,” Coach Hope said.