Never count out the Lady Phantoms.
That appeared to be the message sent by the Grand Canyon High School volleyball team Friday at the Class 1A North Regional Tournament.
Matt Yost is congratulated for winning the 1A North Coach of the Year Award Friday at regionals.
Playing in front of the home crowd, the Lady Phantoms defeated Fredonia in straight games to advance to the state playoffs for the second straight season.
"I’m emotionally spent," an excited Matt Yost said afterward. "This team has once again shown they’re capable of anything."
Heading into the tournament, the odds seemed to be against Grand Canyon. After a 4-0 start in the conference, the team lost its last six, although two were forfeits, to finish second-to-last in the standings. Ash Fork had swept two matches from Grand Canyon in dominating fashion just a few weeks earlier.
To make things even worst, starter Kara Foo slammed her finger in a bathroom door to make her status for regionals questionable.
"The girls responded well to changing our system quickly this week," Yost said. "We played a 5-1 instead of a 6-2 ... we worked on it for only four days."
The setup changed because of the Foo injury. Still, the senior played in limited fashion as a hitter; she just couldn’t set because of the heavily-wrapped finger.
But instead of worrying about an injury to a key player, the Lady Phantoms responded with aggression. Melissa Skeet came off the bench and Grand Canyon didn’t miss a beat. The rest of the team seemed to come together, as if that was the plan all season.
"Michelle Harvey did well for us ... Cally (Foo) had some great sets, Tiffany (Monroe) was phenomenal and played within herself and Sam (Stickler) was absolutely a force in the middle," Yost said. "Melissa Skeet did well, Melissa Monroe responded and although Kara was injured and couldn’t set, she could hit."
A few times during the day, Grand Canyon had a rare lineup of three sets of sisters on the court — Kara and Cally Foo, Michelle and Nikki Harvey, and Melissa and Tiffany Monroe.
The victories were extra sweet for the Foo twins. Friday was their birthday.
"The crowd was awesome; I was so glad to have all the kids here for regionals," said Yost, who hit the bull’s-eye with his crowd comments. The school’s small gymnasium was deafening at times, especially during a memorable run of points against defending state champion Joseph City.
Grand Canyon opened the tournament against that same Ash Fork team it had been swept by a few weeks earlier. The Lady Spartans never had a chance as Grand Canyon won 15-5, 15-4.
In the first game, Grand Canyon quickly turned a tight 4-3 lead into a comfortable 9-3 advantage. Michelle Harvey, who had a career-day at the service line, had four points, one coming on a kill by Nikki Harvey. With Melissa Skeet serving, the Phantoms scored their ninth point on a dink by Tiffany Monroe.
After Ash Fork disrupted the streak with a point, Grand Canyon scored four more with Tiffany Monroe and Cally Foo serving. Samantha Stickler had back-to-back kills in that stretch.
The Spartans scored a fifth point before Grand Canyon ended the game with Melissa Monroe serving. Point 14 was the result of a good serve and point 15 came on another Stickler kill.
Grand Canyon’s momentum carried over into the second game of the match. The Phantoms shot out to a lead of 5-0 with three different servers. Two points came on Stickler hits.
Ash Fork then scored three straight to get back into the game. But the Phantoms responded with another streak of six to take definite control. Five of those points came with Tiffany Monroe serving and included just about everything, including battles won at the net by Stickler and a nice kill by Melissa Monroe.
After the Spartans scored a fourth point, Grand Canyon finished out the match with the final four points. Stickler was a force down the stretch with three kills. Cally Foo had an ace serve on the 14th point. The match was won with Melissa Monroe serving and on a kill by Stickler.
Yost said the team seemed to fuel off its fine performance in the Ash Fork match. With the victory, Grand Canyon was guaranteed at least a trip to the consolation match with the winner to nail down a playoff berth.
First, the Lady Phantoms took on Joseph City, the 1A powerhouse favored by most to go all the way again this season. The Wildcats advanced to the championship by downing Grand Canyon, 15-1, 15-11.
Grand Canyon advanced to the consolation match against Fredonia, a team that defeated Seligman in the first round before falling to St. Michael in the semifinals.
Grand Canyon took the victory over Fredonia, 18-16, 15-13. It was one of the most thrilling matches in the school’s volleyball history.
Trailing 2-0 early, Grand Canyon scored six straight to take the lead in game one. Melissa Skeet and Melissa Monroe served well and Stickler had a few nice blocks at the net.
Then it was Fredonia’s turn. The Lynx scored six straight and regained the lead, 8-6. The two teams traded points and ended up in a 9-9 tie to set up an exciting finish.
Grand Canyon appeared to take control with six unanswered points. Melissa Monroe was serving again and Stickler was causing problems for the opponent at the net. Fredonia didn’t help itself with poor passing and mental mistakes.
But the Lynx played through the errors and took a 15-14 lead. Grand Canyon got a key sideout and tied the game, 15-15, with Nikki Harvey serving. Later, again trailing by one at 16-15, Grand Canyon closed things out with three straight points, all with Tiffany Monroe serving.
The game became tied 16-16 on a Fredonia hit into the net, Grand Canyon took the lead on a Stickler kill spike and then the Phantoms won the game when the Lynx were whistled for three-plus hits.
In the second game, it was much of the same. Fredonia held leads of 4-0 and 8-4 and appeared to be in control to likely force a third game. That definitely appeared to be the case when the Lady Lynx later took a 13-6 lead.
Grand Canyon got something going with Melissa Skeet serving. Then after a sideout, Michelle Harvey strolled to the service line. She would take the team all the way to match point with a streak of seven unanswered points.
Highlights in that stretch included a nice serve on point 10 and one that barely made it over the net on point 13. But Fredonia’s defense was caught off guard and it fell for a point. On the other points, Fredonia either couldn’t get the ball over the net or had hits go wide and long.
After the Lynx finally got a sideout facing match point, Fredonia couldn’t turn the tide while on offense. Grand Canyon regained the advantage and had another chance to win the match.
It couldn’t have been written any better in a movie script. Kara Foo, who had that unfortunate finger injury, had a chance to serve for the victory. The Lady Phantoms won the point, ended the match and earned their trip to the state playoffs.
Grand Canyon takes its 10-15 overall record into this week’s Class 1A state playoffs. Pairings were not available before presstime, but it’s known that the Lady Phantoms will play at noon Friday against the No. 2 team out of the 1A South. The tournament will be played at Apache Junction High School.
Again, Grand Canyon will be in the underdog role with an overall record well below .500. But that seems to be where the Lady Phantoms are most comfortable.
And who knows, those "Fightin’ Phantoms" just might be celebrating once again.