Arizona prep volleyball:
Pinon completes regular season undefeated
By Alistair Mountz
Special to the Times
PINON, Ariz., October 25, 2012
T hey started nervously, but it ended perfectly.
The Pinon Eagles volleyball team got off to a slow start, but completed the only undefeated regular season in the school's history by beating a scrappy Red Mesa Redskins squad in four games (25-23, 22-25, 25-20, 25-13) at Pinon High on Friday night.
Pinon's junior middle hitter Megan Tsosie, who dominated action at the net throughout the entire Red Mesa match, admitted she was nervous at the beginning of the game.
"It was exciting," she said. "It was all about keeping our record. It's the first time Pinon's ever been undefeated."
In her eighth consecutive season at Pinon, coach Nellie McCurtain has seen a dramatic change in this year's team from years past.
"They have a real good attitude," she said about this year's team, "that good attitude is very important because they're not selfish. They all get along, they know each other real close and they really play together."
The theme of keeping each other motivated and positive was noticeable throughout all the players.
"Part of our record is that everybody is doing teamwork," said senior Shanell Tsosie, who has played four years of volleyball at Pinon. "Sometimes we fall apart but we try to bring everybody back up. With the practices we try to give all we got, I think we're one of the hardest working teams out there with the way McCurtain pushes us. This year we have more talent, but teamwork and communication are the key factors. Everybody gets along with each other."
"Last season we weren't as one as we are now," explained senior setter Michaelyn Ben. "Last year we had a lot of drama."
Ben said she "never even touched a volleyball" until she started her volleyball career as a manager her sophomore season before she got promoted to the varsity team as a setter last year.
"Last year we didn't cheer for each other," Ben continued about why this season has been so successful. "We all talk and cheer for each other. We learned a lot from going to tournaments 'cause we see other teams cheering and we learned cheers and started doing them."
Listening was also a major factor in their undefeated regular season said McCurtain, "They have to listen. That made a difference too. If they don't listen I have to discipline them. Last year that was a problem. Not this team. They listen!"
Players and coach alike pointed to a few key games on the schedule that gave them the confidence they needed to go undefeated. The first was against Sanders Valley, which required a comeback to win. The other was a tournament win against Williams who were a much taller and equally athletic team.
The most important win was the night before the Red Mesa game in Chinle. Although Pinon handled Chinle easily in only the second game of the year each team had improved. The match went five sets with Pinon being down 2-1 and needing 2 consecutive wins. They got them both.
The Red Mesa match was a difficult one for the Eagles too with the pressure of an undefeated record and playing at home on their shoulders. Although they won the first set, they lost the second game after being up by eight points. To make things a little interesting they gave up a big lead in the third set before winning, 25-20.
The girls admitted nerves afterward and McCurtain had to take some starters out simply to calm them down. After the nerves settled, Pinon's dynamic front row duo of Tsosie and Denitra Cowboy made quick work of the Redskins in the fourth game with smiles on their faces.
"Yeah we finally had fun," admitted Tsosie. "We finally got warmed up and into the game."
Long-time Red Mesa head coach Henrietta Haven talked about her team's "total rebuilding year" after the game and promised that her team "would be contenders again next season" before noting the positive changes she's seen with Pinon's volleyball team over the years.
"They have some big girls that can move," she said. "Some of their big girls play all the way around. You usually only see girls like that in the front row, but they were in the back row too. That was nice to see. They have really improved. Nellie is doing a really good job with these girls."
Although they sport a 16-0 record and only one of four teams undefeated in Division IV, Pinon is seeded No. 14 according to the Oct. 16 polls of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
The state volleyball tournament will be held in Prescott, Ariz., on Nov. 1-3 with only 16 teams getting qualifying.
McCurtain admits their seeding would be higher if they played more Division III opponents. She tried to schedule a more difficult schedule for the team before the season started, but changes couldn't be arranged.
Regardless, she does find the seeding "confusing", pointing out that all the other undefeated teams are in the top eight.
It's not something that she, or the players, paid a lot of attention to after wrapping up the win against Red Mesa which should give Pinon its first state tournament berth in anyone's recent memory.
"It's exciting to see what they are capable of doing and seeing how far they can get," McCurtain said about their first trip to state. "It would be nice to see them get their first win."
The win against Red Mesa also brought the volleyball careers of the seniors to an end.
"It finally hit me that I'll be playing on this court for the last time," said Shanell Tsosie before the match, "and it makes me sad. I'll miss playing with everybody on the team. (We) all have good memories together from all our games and it's been like a family."
"I have been thinking about it," said Ben, "I don't want it to be my last year.
Well, at least she'll get one more game.