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AWC sweeps Eastern in Region I Final
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Round three goes to Arizona Western.
In their third straight NJCAA Region I Final against Eastern Arizona, the Matadors finally knocked off the Gila Monsters with a 25-19, 28-26, 25-23 sweep Wednesday night at the House.
After getting swept the last two Region I Finals against the Gila Monsters in Thatcher, the home town Matadors looked comfortable nearly all night for their second win over Eastern Arizona in a week.
“I think a lot of it had to do with confidence,” Arizona Western coach Jason Smith said. “We shouldn't have gotten down in those situations but at the same time, we also knew we could get it back. It's just simple volleyball. We have the full deal.”
The Matadors, who won their first region title since 2007, travel to Oklahoma to play the Region II Final winner in the District C Final on Tuesday — which gives Arizona Western nearly a week to rest.
“It's really good for us. This time of the season, we have sore shoulders and sore knees — not injuries, but the difference between being injured and hurt,” Smith said.
Arizona Western picked up its third win of the season over Eastern Arizona, with two coming in the regular season series — including a 25-20, 25-19, 25-20 sweep on Oct. 24. For the Matador sophomores, the win is revenge from last season's loss in the Region I Final — a 25-18, 25-22, 25-19 win for the Gila Monsters.
“I definitely wanted to win 3-0 just so we can pay them back,” sophomore outside hitter Paula Rosa said.
Nearly the entire night, the Matadors kept Eastern Arizona outside hitter Annalyn Sanders, the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Player of the Year, in check. When Rosa came up with the match-ending kill on the backline, Sanders sat on the bench — her turn out because of rotation.
“We knew what to do,” Smith said about defending Sanders. “Sanders was the player of the year because they have two hitters so she had a lot of opportunities to get some kills. Any one of our kids could have gotten more kills if I wanted to get a conference player of the year but my goal was to win the region championship.”
The Matadors seemed to have little problem in the first set and built a lead as large as eight — including 21-13 on a Rosa kill — before sophomore Amanda Watkins came up with a kill to secure a 25-19 win. The Matadors managed to come back from deficits in the last two games. Trailing 19-14 in the second set, the Matadors scored five straight to tie it and eventually won on a block by freshman middle blocker Taylor Price. The Gila Monsters led 23-21 in the third game, but the Matadors scored four straight — including two kills by Rosa.
“We kind of broke down our serve receive and our passing a little bit, but we got back together in the middle, looked each other in the eyes and said we got this. We can do this,” outside hitter Amber Graham said.
In the beginning of the year, Smith talked about the potential his Matadors had — how they could be the top of the conference. The win over Eastern Arizona — and a trip to Oklahoma — was a part of the realization of that potential.
“It was all season long. We just had to worry about the little things and do the little things right,” Smith said. “Respect our abilities and enjoy winning.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.