Going into the Oct. 29 regular season finale against San Tan Valley Combs, Apache Junction was under the impression that it needed to sweep the visiting Coyotes to earn the 4A Black Canyon Region volleyball tiebreaker.
Combs defeated AJHS 3-games-to-1 on Oct. 16. The Lady Prospectors avenged that loss with a resounding 25-19, 25-12, 29-27 sweep of Combs to pull into a tie for first place in the region, thinking they earned the necessary tiebreaker to advance to the playoffs.
Afterwards, there was celebrating, photos were taken, and “Black Canyon Region Champions” t-shirts were worn by the AJ players and coaches.
However, Combs Coach Ellis Pear said after the match, “I’m not 100 percent sure that (Apache Junction) wins the region, because it can come down to some power points. I try not to look at that, because we try to come in with the mindset that we’re going to win.”
When the AIA announced its 4A tournament pairings on Oct. 30, Pear turned out to be right. Combs was included in the field, and Apache Junction was not. The Coyotes wound up No. 27 on the final power poll, while AJHS was No. 29.
Instead of looking forward to the postseason, the Lady Prospectors finished their season 19-22-1 overall, 9-1 region.
“They are disappointed,” Lady Prospectors Coach Regan Roach said. “More so in the fact that through the game and work of volleyball, we won. But with the magic formula the AIA uses, we lost.
“We did the work, and we won. But the math didn’t fall in our favor. I told them before the game that the score didn’t matter to me. All I wanted was for them to play their very best game, and they did. They are region winners in everyone's eyes.”
The Lady Prospectors asserted themselves in games one and two before Combs (18-13, 9-1) reacted in game three. In the third game, the Coyotes erased a 9-2 deficit and eventually forced overtime at 25-25.
“I barely survived that third game, when we were down 17-23,” Coach Roach said. “We really dug that one out.
“Those first two sets, we were on fire and it was amazing to watch them play. I’ve seen them play like that before, they made mistakes but came back from that, we didn’t miss our serves, and it just finally came together.”
When a Combs hitting error ended the match, AJ outside hitter Brooke Gordon said she thought, “Oh my goodness, we just did that! I was so excited.”
Senior Haley Loftis led the Lady Prospectors with 18 kills, to go with two service aces, two assists and 11 digs. She served the final two points in game three.
“I figure that I serve out all the time, so it was really high pressure and almost got to my head,” Loftis said. “It all worked out.”
Coach Roach added, “Once Haley figured out her hit, she was unstoppable.”
Senior outside Mady Roach had six kills, one ace and 16 digs. Seniors Gordon and Emily Reynolds each had four kills. Reynolds led AJ with five service aces, and Gordon and senior libero Allison Lopez had three aces each.
“I can’t begin to describe how awesome this feels,” Gordon said. “To win this on Senior Night, with all of my best friends, It’s amazing.”
Mady Roach’s emphatic kill to end game two was not the hardest she’s hit a ball, she said. “But it felt really good!
“I’m just so proud of my team because we’ve worked so hard to get here,” she said, adding that the plan to prepare for the rematch with Combs was “to relax and have fun. We were too tense last time.”
Lopez also had 12 digs; Mady Roach and Gordon led AJ with 16 digs each; and setter Caris Bishop finished with 28 assists, six digs, one block and three kills.
Senior Memarie Gallegos added one kill and two digs.
“They played so well together,” Coach Roach said. “They don’t get down on each other. They stepped up and did what they needed to do.”
Kerstyn Hedrick was Combs’s kill leader with six, followed by Aimee Hansen with four and three each by Savana Norton and Acacia Melvin. Norton, Alysen Harris and Reagan Foster each had two service aces; Melvin had eight total blocks; and Foster and Harris led the Coyotes with 18 and 12 digs, respectively. Harris finished with 12 assists for Combs.