State Title Barely Eludes ALA – Queen Creek in 5-Set Thriller

5 months ago Jason P. Skoda 0

In the moment it can be difficult to see through the haze of defeat.

The immediacy of a winning point hitting the floor clouds everything as the opposition celebrates nearby.

Eventually, after receiving the trophy, acknowledging the fans, and huddling for the last time as a team, reality sets in.

The season has come to end.

Finishing as the state runner-up both hurts and illustrates the incredible accomplishment of the season, especially in the case of the American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek boys volleyball team.

The Patriots lost in the Class 5A boys state volleyball championship Friday to Mesquite in a back-and-forth five-setter to No. 7 Higley, 25-19, 21-25, 25-21, 18-25, 15-9.

It was tough to take soon after the final point hit the floor, but the backstory should be the point that really hits home.

The Patriots’ program is in just its third year and ALA-QC had not made the playoffs until this year. The team’s record before this year was 19-27 before winning 34 of 38 matches this year.

“We’ve come so far so fast,” Reed Nelson said. “The loss hurts, but we will always have the memories of this season. We never played volleyball before (2016) and here we are playing in the last 15 points (in set five) of the year.

The Patriots huddle in front of the “Red Sea” before the start of the fifth set in Friday’s 5A State Championship (Kelli Luberda).

“Only two teams can say that and we are one of them.”

The match started with the Patriots looking flatfooted, out of sync as they uncharacteristically struggled receiving the ball, finishing their blocks and were without their patented energy.

It led to a first set loss, but No. 5 ALA-QC settled in after that as Brett Bryce, Tyler Jameson and Marshall Hancock started to get in a groove offensively. Libero Josh Eames and Nelson, the setter, and started to work better in receiving and setting up the offense in the second set.

“We were off in that first set,” ALA-QC coach Tim Zemp said. “Higley took us out of our game, were beating us in the middle, but we made the proper adjustments and played strong the rest of the way. Higley played well, but part of it was playing in the state championship game and all of the layers that brings.”

Higley (22-11) won the third set by breaking a 20-all tie with a 5-1 run to finish it, while ALA-QC’s Porter Pace made his presence felt in the fourth game as his power kills were exactly what the Pats needed to force the fifth set.

 

 

“It was a great match that both teams deserved to win,” Eames said. “We came up short but it was about so much more than this one match. We will always have the bond of this team and the memories.”

Higley, behind the play of Dreyson Cattani, took off from a 4-all tie in the fifth set to a 8-4 lead and never let the ALA-QC back into it.

It left the Patriots in a bit a daze that eventually cleared. Only the enormity of the accomplishment remained to celebrate.

“This has been an amazing run,” Zemp said. “It started with a bunch of sophomores trying to figure things out. We never talked about winning a state championship in my interview (for the job), but we did talk about building a program and to me that means winning a state title. These seniors got us here and now it is up to the next set of players to finish it.

“This can be the start of a dynasty where this is the expectation every year and eventually we will get a few state titles. I truly believe it is possible and this group showed us we can do it.”