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12:42 PM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Preview: Bears believe team chemistry will carry their club far in 2018

Prep Volleyball

 Bradshaw Mountain head coach Natali Sobczak goes over the next play at practice Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, in Prescott Valley. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Bradshaw Mountain head coach Natali Sobczak goes over the next play at practice Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, in Prescott Valley. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

PRESCOTT VALLEY — Bradshaw Mountain’s volleyball team may have finished the 2017 season with a 7-10 overall record in power-point matches, but the Bears were squarely on the postseason bubble with a No. 25 ranking.

The Top 24-ranked squads in 4A qualify for the postseason. The Top 8 earn automatic berths into the state tournament bracket, while those rated 10th through 24th are paired into a state play-in round where each winner advances.

In coach Natali Sobczak’s sixth season, Bradshaw Mountain remains hopeful that it can take the next step — reach the one-match play-in round and turn around its fortunes.

Bradshaw Mountain begins the 2018 season at home versus Tempe at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 28.

The Bears plan to keep only a 10-player roster this fall, although Sobczak said she’s leaving her options open for calling up players from the 13-member JV team when and if necessary.

“We have a strong core group,” Sobczak said of her varsity girls.

In the attack, Bradshaw Mountain is led by junior outside hitter Mailani Manuel and OH Peyton Bradshaw. Also keep an eye on junior libero/OH Jordan Moser, who Sobczak said is “a great passer,” and senior OH/defensive specialist/libero Reillie Smith.

Peyton Bradshaw said this year’s team is “a lot stronger” because the girls are “bonding better” and have focused more on developing their talent and skill.

“I love these girls,” added Manuel, who bolstered her offensive game in the offseason. “It’s been fun.”

Senior setter Saylor Ford, now in her third season on varsity, will run the offense. Senior middle blocker Rylee Bundrick, junior S/DS McKell Clifford, senior right-side hitter Courtnie Cobb, MB Alyssa Weissenberger and S/RS Shelbie Faughn round out the unit.

The Bears should play better in the back row and in the serve-receive game this year, and they want to be more aggressive in the attack. Bradshaw Mountain has worked to improve its execution, mental toughness and focus in the offseason, the players said.

“We have been talking about this season since last season ended,” Ford said. “For any season [to be good], it comes down to defense. We need to communicate.”

Moser said the 2017 team “fell short” in several areas, but that the girls on the 2018 squad seem determined to be more competitive. In the offseason, many of the players competed in local Club ball for either the Peak or the Northern Ace teams.

“We’re all really good friends,” Moser added. “We’ve been playing a couple years with each other now, and we’ve meshed well as a team. I’m really excited for the season.”

Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at dcook@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.