Originally Published: August 29, 2017 10:30 p.m.
Trailing Mingus Union two games to none and seemingly on the ropes Tuesday night, Bradshaw Mountain’s volleyball team refused to panic, allowing its sophomore phenom outside hitter to take control.
In the 4A Grand Canyon region opener for both teams at Gary Kunow Gym in Prescott Valley, the Bears rallied to win in dramatic fashion, 3-2 (24-26, 20-25, 25-14, 25-20, 15-12).
Mailani Manuel scored three of Bradshaw Mountain’s final four points of the match, registering three convincing kills in game five, to help lead a green Bears group that’s finding its confidence and chemistry early in the campaign.
“I just wanted to beat them so bad,” Manuel said afterwards. “They’re almost like our rivals, because we beat them last year, [then] they beat us. I just want to get back at them. But I was looking for the holes on the court; that was my strategy.”
Bears coach Natali Sobczak said she was proud of her team for staying composed throughout the match, but particularly for its perseverance in clawing out of the hole.
“I asked them what was going on, on the court, and said, ‘OK, what can we do? What can we do better? How are we going to fix this,’” the coach added. “And they came out and did that. They knew what their mistakes were, and they knew we came out a little flat, too. But they came back and fought. These girls can fight.”
Bradshaw Mountain (2-0, 1-0 4A Grand Canyon) had just come off of a convincing sweep of Moon Valley, 3-0, Monday at home to start the season. For Mingus (0-1, 0-1 4A Grand Canyon), however, this was its first match of 2017.
The Bears remained calm despite their 2-0 hole. Last fall, Bradshaw Mountain had fallen behind by the same margin to the Marauders only to come back and win that match. Last year’s result wasn’t lost on Manuel.
“We’re just trying to get used to each other – we’re just getting warmed up in the beginning of the first two sets,” Manuel said of the Bears’ slow start on Tuesday.
Bradshaw Mountain dominated game three, but found itself in a dogfight the rest of the way. Leading 22-20 in the fourth game, Manuel’s back-to-back kills pulled the Bears within game point. Sophomore setter McKell Clifford followed with a service ace to force the fifth and final game.
“In our third game we found our energy, and it helped us push ahead,” Bears junior libero Reillie Smith said. “We have the talent, and our biggest struggle is our mental game. And I think we found that tonight, and it’s going to help us throughout the season.”
In game five, the Bears raced to a 4-1 lead, capping off the scoring with a Manuel kill. But Mingus rallied, eventually tying it at 5-5 on a kill from Katelyn Prouty. Later, knotted at 11-11 after a kill by Bears senior middle blocker Nikala Calia, Manuel took over the game, crushing three kills in a series of five possessions.
“She’s got a whip of an arm,” Sobczak said of Manuel. “Her natural ability and natural talent is so much fun to watch.”
Up 14-11, Manuel mishit a ball that cut Bradshaw’s lead to 14-12, but she promptly made up for the miscue with a monster kill from the left side on the next series to end it.
“She is an amazing player – she’s super-talented, she’s really young and she even has that energy with her that helps us so much,” Smith said of Manuel. “She puts it away when we need her to, so she’s really dependable.”
Bradshaw Mountain visits Tempe at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31, for a non-region match.
Mingus will travel to Scottsdale to face Saguaro for a non-region match at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2039, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.