Prior to her junior year at Imagine Prep-Superstition, Nadine Rodriguez had never played volleyball, but decided to give it a try this fall.

Rodriguez didn’t appear in the Lady Panthers’ four-game win over visiting West Phoenix on Tuesday until late in the fourth game. With Prep leading 21-18, Rodriguez served four straight points – three for aces, including match point.

“It was very exciting,” Rodriguez said.

Imagine Prep won its CAA season opener 22-25, 25-17, 25-14, 25-18.

“This is a great way to start the season,” Lady Panthers Coach Charlyne Long said. “We’re going to use this win to push forward and jump-start our season.

“We’re super excited.”

Senior Samantha Cannon paced the Lady Panthers with 12 kills and 10 service aces. Sophomore Hailey Castine had eight kills and seven aces, and junior Alayna Rhone contributed two kills and eight aces.

Imagine Prep had a 20-19 lead in game one before a net serve, a kill by Miriam Pineda and a Lady Panthers hitting error allowed the Eagles to take a 22-20 lead. A Prep return error set up game point for the Eagles, which the Lady Panthers broke on a Cannon kill, but a service error ended the game.

“After we got our heads back in the game, we went back to what we do in practice, and it all came together,” Long said. “Our serving success started in camp. We had an amazing result in camp. A lot of girls showed up. At practice, girls are always asking if we could extend it another hour; they want to play better this year.”

Imagine Prep reasserted itself in game two, with consistent hitting and serving by Cannon, Castine and Rhone sparking the Lady Panthers to a 19-8 lead. Natasia Cole’s kill brought Prep to game point at 24-17, and a West Phoenix hitting error tied the match at 1-1.

Similar to game two, Prep jumped to a 20-9 lead in game three on a kill by Karma Masbruch, followed by three straight service aces by Cannon. Masbruch fired an ace on game point.

West Phoenix took a 3-2 lead in game four, but the Lady Panthers went ahead on a Masbruch kill at 5-4, maintaining a slim lead until a lift and an hitting error tied the game at 13-13.

Prep surged ahead to stay at 16-13 on an Eagles hitting error, followed by a Cannon ace and a kill by Anyssa Pena. West Phoenix pulled to within 20-18 before Cannon’s 12th kill set up Rodriguez’s serving heroics.

“I felt we came together more as a team and as a family,” Rodriguez said. “It was a little rough at first, but we cheered each other on and we pushed through as a family.

“I’m having fun and this team makes it everything. I’d play with this team for the rest of my life if I could.”

 “We have a great group of girls,” Long said. “I’m looking forward to what we can do this season.”

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