By Daniel Gaona
Special to West Valley Preps
VAIL – Kim Ulrich-Suss aims to have Deer Valley’s boys volleyball team back in the state tournament next spring — under different circumstances, she can only hope.
Top-seeded Cienega rolled past the No. 8 Skyhawks 3-0 (25-24, 25-21, 25-13) in the 5A state quarterfinals Tuesday night, in its own gym, in front of a raucious student section.
Next time around, Ulrich-Suss hopes to be the one with the fans on their side.
“What we plan on doing is not ever having to come down here again,” said Ulrich-Suss, Deer Valley’s co-coach. “Compliments to Cienega for having the turnout because that is what home-court advantage is all about.”
Despite the lengthy drive, Deer Valley still had a decent cheering section of its own in Vail. Parents and fans gave a standing ovation to the team after the match, which closed out a memorable year for the Skyhawks.
“We have an amazing group of fans who follow us everywhere, no doubt about that,” Coach Ulrich-Suss said.
It was a bittersweet farewell to senior captains Brennan Olachea, Nathan Mayfield and Kyler Angst, who led the way as Deer Valley captured the 5A Phoenix regional title and posted its first winning season since 2014. The Skyhawks finished 15-5 in non-invitational matches and 21-16 overall.
“Those guys played really tough tonight,” Coach Ulrich-Suss said. “I’m really proud of them.”
Deer Valley knocked off rival Ironwood in a five-set road victory last week to close out the regular season and secure the region crown. Five days later, the Skyhawks once again went the distance against ninth-seeded Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge in the first round of the 5A state playoffs, setting up Tuesday’s showdown at Cienega.
“It was hard to go out like that but I know next year they better kill it,” said Mayfield, who finished with 11 kills. “The highlight of the season was beating Ironwood to win the region banner… To bring that to my school and go out like that was pretty monumental but I wish we could have done it with a state championship.”
Both Mayfield and Ulrich-Suss said the two-and-a-half-hour bus ride threw the team off a bit, on top of playing in the challenging environment.
“The whole gym was loud,” Mayfield said. We couldn’t talk, we couldn’t hear each other.”
Cienega, which fell just short of reaching the Division II state finals last year, rolled from the start Tuesday night to remain unbeaten at home and extend its winning streak to 22 straight matches overall. The Bobcats move on to face fifth-seeded Gilbert Campo Verde in the semifinals on Wednesday night.
“I’m excited to be going back up there,” Cienega coach Heather Mott said. “I think we’ve got some unfinished business up there.”
Senior hitters Alex Muszynski and Skyler Cavanaugh each finished with nine kills while senior McLain Mott had six kills and 28 assists in the win.
Cienega used a 10-2 run to pull away in the first set before Cavanaugh fought off a late push by the Skyhawks in the second with a monster kill. The Bobcats rattled off another sizeable run in the third set to close out the win.
“This match is not a testament to the season that we had,” said Deer Valley co-coach Eric Palmer. “We had a very successful season and we’re very proud of these boys. We would have preferred a different outcome obviously but we’re very proud of these kids and we’ve got a good returning core coming back so we’re excited about the future.”