ST. MICHAEL — After a suspect start, a memorable midseason run and a four-match losing streak to end the regular season, the Grand Canyon High School volleyball team is ready to hit the road for the state playoffs in Apache Junction.
Freshman Samantha Stickler stretches skyward for the ball in a Grand Canyon match from earlier this season.
That’s because the fifth-seeded Lady Phantoms beat two higher-seeded teams Friday at St. Michael in the Class 1A North Region Tournament. The state-qualifying clincher came in the third-place match against Ash Fork with Grand Canyon taking a 15-13, 15-10 victory.
"They played like they could play," said coach Matt Yost, who took a lot of kidding from his players for chewing on so many Twizzlers during the tournament. "They didn’t crack under the pressure. I’m thrilled, I knew we could do it."
Under conference realignment, the Arizona Interscholastic Association granted the 1A North three representatives for this year’s state playoffs. Joseph City and St. Michael led the league all year and were considered shoo-ins for those top two spots. But the third and final spot was up for grabs with Ash Fork, Fredonia and Grand Canyon vying for that last berth.
The Lady Phantoms opened the tournament Friday morning with a match against fourth-seeded Fredonia. The Lady Lynx had split a pair of matches against Grand Canyon earlier in the season. And this one went down to the wire.
"We beat them, it went three games, but we beat them," Yost said. "After Fredonia won the first, we came back to take the next two."
The Lady Lynx won the opening game of the match, 15-11, before Grand Canyon evened things up with a game two victory of 15-8. In the deciding game, the two teams stayed close but the Phantoms escaped with a 16-14 win behind a torrid comeback.
Fredonia led the third game 14-6, trying to nail the win on match point. But Grand Canyon reeled off 10 straight points. Point, game, match. Bring on Joseph City.
The Wildcats finished atop the standings during the regular season with an unbeaten record. Joe City dominated the Lady Phantoms in the first game by a 15-1 count. But in the second game, Grand Canyon put up a respectable fight in the 17-15 loss. In fact, the team began to play its type of ball beginning in that second game vs. the Wildcats, despite the loss.
"We played our butts off," Yost said. "They started having hitting errors, putting in the net. It was really intense."
The St. Michael crowd appeared to be supporting the Lady Phantoms during the match.
"We had on our red and white, the same colors as St. Michael," Yost said. "It seems like we had the whole Navajo Nation behind us."
St. Michael downed Ash Fork, 15-3, 15-10, to send the Lady Spartans into the third-place match against Grand Canyon. Ash Fork must have gone into the match with plenty of confidence after traveling to the Phantoms’ own gym and sweeping a doubleheader only one week earlier.
But Grand Canyon was a different team on this day and took the victory.
Joseph City opened the tournament with a 15-0, 15-1 win over Northland Prep. St. Michael followed with a 15-5, 15-4 win over Seligman. Ash Fork’s lone tourney win came over Music Mountain, 15-4, 10-15, 15-8.
St. Michael defeated Joseph City in the championship match 15-11, 15-7 to head down to state at Apache Junction as the No. 1 seed out of the region. Joe City garnered the No. 2 seed with Grand Canyon qualifying as the No. 3 seed.
Grand Canyon had one representative on the all-tournament team — Cally Foo.
Grand Canyon opens the state playoffs Friday at 1:30 p.m. at Apache Junction High School. The Lady Phantoms will play Tohono O’odham. The winner will then take on Salome at 7:30 p.m.
Class 1A Volleyball Playoffs
At Apache Junction High School
9 a.m. — Pima vs. International Studies
10:30 a.m. — Bagdad vs. Valley Union
Noon — Joseph City vs. St. David
1:30 p.m. — Tohono O’odham vs. Grand Canyon
3 p.m. — St. Michael vs. Pima-International Studies winner
4:30 p.m. — Green Fields vs. Bagdad-Valley Union winner
6 p.m. — Fort Thomas vs. Joseph City-St. David winner
7:30 p.m. — Salome vs. Tohono O’odham-Grand Canyon winner
10 a.m. — St. Michael-Pima/International Studies winner vs. Green Fields-Bagad/Valley Union winner
11:30 a.m. — Fort Thomas-Joseph City/St. David winner vs. Salome-Tohono O’odham-Grand Canyon winner
4 p.m. — Semifinal winners
Note: All matches played at Apache Junction High School, 2525 S. Ironwood.