Originally Published: October 11, 2018 11:43 p.m.
PRESCOTT VALLEY — For the No. 11-ranked Bradshaw Mountain volleyball team, it’s too soon to talk about the postseason.
But that doesn’t mean the players aren’t thinking about it, at least in the back of their minds. After all, the Bears haven’t qualified for the state tournament in 16 years, since 2002.
On senior night Thursday, Bradshaw Mountain took a promising step forward in its quest for state, avenging a Grand Canyon region loss at Coconino last month by topping the Panthers, 3-1, at Gary Kunow Gym to tie rival Prescott for second place in the league standings.
With their thrilling 25-17, 25-19, 23-25, 26-24 victory over Coconino, the Bears upped their record to 12-5 overall and 6-2 in region. The scrappy No. 21 Panthers dropped to 5-8 and 3-5. Coco defeated Bradshaw Mountain, 3-1, Sept. 25 in Flagstaff.
“We were really in it for kind of the revenge – they beat us, so let’s beat them,” Bears hitter Payton Bradshaw said of the difference maker in the fourth set. “A fire lit in us, or something. But we just played hard and we were like, ‘We’re not going to lose this game. We’re not going to go to five [sets].’
“We got a few kills, we had energy, and it was just exciting and we pulled through.”
Mailani Manuel led the Bears’ attack, tallying 15 kills and adding two blocks and 13 digs. Jordyn Moser followed with eight kills and 10 digs. Rylee Bundrick, who ripped the match-winning kill in the fourth set, finished with six kills and three blocks. Payton Bradshaw registered seven kills.
“We were reading [Coco’s defense] really well this game,” Manuel said. “We were looking for the holes on their side, and we all watched film before this to see which spots are open. We had our game on [Thursday].”
Setters Mckell Clifford and Saylor Ford racked up 22 assists and 14 assists, respectively. In the service game, Bradshaw Mountain recorded seven aces, including three from Reillie Smith and two from Payton Bradshaw.
“It felt great [to hit the match-winner] – it felt like all of our hard work finally paid off in beating them,” said Bundrick, whose Bears split the season series with Coconino. “We knew that we needed to beat them [Thursday] in order to make it to playoffs.”
Although only the Top 16 teams in 4A qualify for state, there will be a play-in round for those teams ranked Nos. 9 through 24. Each of those Nos. 9 through 24 squads is paired and plays one match to decide the final eight seeds since the Top 8 seeds earn automatic berths in the bracket.
Bradshaw Mountain doesn’t have an easy road to the play-in round, if that is indeed what happens. The Bears next visit region-leading and No. 4 Flagstaff, currently 8-0 in region, at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16.
“Flag’s good – they’ve been Top 3 in the state for the entire season,” Bears coach Natali Sobczak said. “They have some strong girls, and they’re aggressive. We can beat them, but we have to be on our A-game and not get in our heads, and not get frustrated with ourselves.”
Bradshaw Mountain will then have three matches remaining in the regular season, all in region, including at Lee Williams on Oct. 18, versus Mohave on Oct. 19 at Kunow Gym, and vs. Prescott on Oct. 23 at Prescott Valley Event Center. The Bears beat Prescott, 3-1, in their first meeting Sept. 6.
“Our goal right now is to just keep going, and our end goal is state,” Payton Bradshaw said. “We know we have Prescott, which is a huge rivalry and we’re in the big arena. But in order to do that, we have to go undefeated from this point.”
Bradshaw Mountain heads to Flagstaff (14-1 overall) on Oct. 16. First serve is at 6 p.m. The Eagles swept the Bears, 3-0, Sept. 18 in Prescott Valley.
Coconino travels to Bullhead City to face Mohave (4-9, 1-7 Grand Canyon) at 6 p.m. Oct. 16.
Doug Cook is a reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.