Queen Creek’s Defense is the Difference in Run to Championship Final

11 months ago Andrew Luberda 0

The Queen Creek volleyball team’s reputation as an offensive juggernaut was long solidified before last week’s start of the 2017 5A State Championship Tournament. However, it was the fifth-seeded Bulldogs’ defense that proved to be the difference in Tuesday’s three-set sweep (25-21, 27-25, 25-10) of No. 1-seed Chaparral in the semifinals.

Tuesday’s result secures the Bulldogs a berth in Thursday’s State Championship at Mesquite High School versus No. 2 Sunnyslope.

Queen Creek’s defense was a question mark at the outset of tournament, and certainly against the Firebirds, who defeated the Bulldogs in two previous meetings this season, including a 3 – 1 victory on Oct. 17.

Chaparral used the dump set play in that match to near perfection, while Queen Creek did not have a defensive answer.

Savannah Bloom gets ready to serve in Tuesday’s semifinal match. Photo: Kelli Luberda/CountyLinePreps.com

The Bulldogs went to school and the result was different in the semifinals, proving the third time was the charm.

“We changed our defense after we lost to them the last time,” Queen Creek head coach Eric Crismon said after Tuesday’s win. “I’m so proud of how prepared our girls were. They executed amazingly, and I’m more proud of them defensively because it’s not something we’re normally really good at, but in this tournament we’ve been close to perfect.”

Queen Creek trailed by as many as five points in the first two sets but used its defense to spark eight-point rallies in both to gain control. As a matter of fact, the Bulldogs posted 8 – 0 runs in all three sets, although they never trailed in the decisive third set.

The Firebirds’ dump set play was ineffective throughout the match.

“We practiced a lot on dumps and tips, so we were ready for it,” said Queen Creek senior outside hitter Claudia Wilson, who missed most of the last meeting between the teams.

According to Crismon, Wilson “turned it on defensively” this time around.

Wilson (8), Kate Grimmer (24), and Jordan Worth (16) combined for 40 digs during Tuesday night’s win. Savannah Bloom, who finished with five digs, shared the team lead in blocks (2) with Serena Caspersen and Kennadee Coplen.

Offensively, the Bulldogs’ stars did what they do best. Jaelyn Hodge had a team-high 22 kills, Grimmer added eight, and Bloom finished with six. Wilson and Caspersen had five and four kills, respectively.

East Region Champion Queen Creek was a perfect 8 – 0 in region play this season, and it will have to be perfect in state tournament action to win its first-ever state title on Thursday night.

Now it figures the Bulldogs’ defense could have as much to do with them winning a state title as their powerhouse offense.

After the loss to Chaparral on Oct. 17, senior Serena Caspersen said, “Pushing through during times like that is an obstacle we have to overcome and it’s definitely doable.”

Indeed it was.

Is it “doable” one more time?

“We just have to play like us,” junior Kate Grimmer said. “We don’t have to be anything special.”

“I think we tend to get stressed out at times and feel like we have to perform (a certain way),” she continued. “We just played like ourselves (on Tuesday) and it worked so well. We need to do the same thing on Thursday.”

Queen Creek, a Nike school, needs to Just Do It on Thursday night.

The 5A State Championship is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9, at Mesquite High School in Gilbert.