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Matadors in driver's seat to host Region I Division I championship match
Sweep E. Arizona 25-20, 25-19, 25-20
With a traffic jam at the top of the standings, the Arizona Western volleyball team just drove to the front of the pack.
The Matadors got a balanced offensive attack and took control of sole possession of the No. 1 seed for the NJCAA Region I Division I championship with a 25-20, 25-19, 25-20 sweep over Eastern Arizona at Wednesday night at The House.
“It's an extension of what we've been doing. That's the fourth match in a row that we've won and played pretty well. Every one of them had a part in it,” Matador coach Jason Smith said.
The win puts the Matadors (17-6 overall, 10-4 in Arizona Community College Athletic Conference) a game ahead of Eastern Arizona (14-12, 10-6) and Central Arizona (10-6), which swept Yavapai on Wednesday. Now the Roughriders (8-6) come to Arizona Western on Friday night in a doubleheader with the Matadors needing just one win to secure the top seed and a home match for the Region I Division I championship.
“We're ready for it. We've been working on a lot of different things, we're excited to see things happen,” freshman Amber Graham said.
Graham and the Matadors certainly looked ready on Wednesday, beating the Gila Monsters several different ways — cruising to an easy first set win and going on a late 11-1 run in the third set to take the match.
“I couldn't believe we went on a 10-1 or 11-1 run to finish off Eastern,” Smith said. “(They) are too good of a team for us to be able to do that and (we) did it.”
Graham had 10 kills and 17 digs, freshman outside hitter Marisha Herbert had 10 kills, sophomore outside hitter Paula Rosa had 15 digs, and freshman setter Kylee Chun had 20 assists for the Matadors.
“We worked hard for the last 10 practices now and we really want this,” Graham said about the playoff run.
One aspect of the match that Smith was pleased with was Arizona Western's ability to finish off long rallies between the Matadors and the Gila Monsters. One rally finished when Rosa smacked a kill in the back right corner to give the Matadors a 23-14 lead in the first set. Another had freshman libero Melly Wong crawling on her knees to keep the ball alive and eventually led to a kill by freshman middle blocker Taylor Price in the back left corner to put the Matadors ahead 19-17 in the second set. Both points had Smith pumping his fists and yelling in celebration.
“The way Eastern is set up, they should win those long rallies against us,” Smith said. “Our girls fought really hard to win those long rallies. We're out there to have the big bangers and big blockers and Eastern has more the ball control and volleyball savvy type team.”
“We didn't let a ball die or let it go, we worked hard for every single point and we just wanted to win,” Graham said.
The Matadors put an exclamation point on the victory when, trailing 19-14 in the third set, they went on an 11-1 run to end the match — including eight points led by the serving of sophomore outside hitter Polina Severina, who finished the night with five kills, five aces, and 3 1/2 blocks.
“I feel very proud of my girls,” Severina said. “We knew it would be a very important and difficult game. The girls were nervous about it but we're happy about the score.”
Arizona Western now stands with one win separating them from securing a home match for the region title. The doubleheader against Yavapai is a result of the first match in Prescott being suspended in the second set. The teams will start the suspended match — with the Matadors trailing 16-12 in the second set after winning the first — at 5 p.m. at The House and follow it with the second match at 7 p.m. The suspended match also means that a game that was scheduled to take place in Prescott is now being made up in Yuma.
“Anytime we're not playing at Yavapai, that's a good thing,” Smith said. “That's the best home court advantage in the whole conference with the altitude and the drive and everything else.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.