Arizona Division III volleyball: MV, Tuba and Window Rock eyeing championship game
By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
WINDOW ROCK, November 1, 2012
W hen the Window Rock Lady Scouts concluded their regular season two weeks ago, MaxPreps.com initially ranked them No. 23 according to the Arizona Interscholastic Association's volleyball seedings.
Window Rock's No. 23 ranking momentarily left them out of the 16-team playoff picture for the 2012 AIA Division III Girls State Volleyball tournament, which will be held at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Ariz.
Window Rock head coach Amelia Holtsoi called the No. 23 ranking skeptical, saying, "It didn't seem right. I kept telling my kids if a miracle happens it happens."
Needless to say their seeding left them crying and frustrated, but the miracle they wished for was granted on Oct. 25 when the AIA released a press release noting there was a glitch in the final seedings for the state tournament.
Mike Wilkes, MaxPreps Business Development Director, said MaxPreps found a number of invitational games from several different tournaments that had not been removed from the seeding formula.
"In order to ensure the integrity of the AIA post-season seedings, which requires no invitational contests are included, MaxPreps has removed these invitational results from the formula," he said. "This change will negatively affect the seed of 6% of volleyball teams."
In response to the mistake, AIA executive director Dr. Harold Slemmer said, "While we would prefer that mistakes never happen, especially when it affects our member players, we appreciate the effort of MaxPreps to ensure accuracy and its transparency in resolving the error as soon as it was discovered."
Slemmer added, "We are confident that with its experience, expertise and integrity, MaxPreps will continue to do everything in their power to ensure accuracy for our member schools and their players."
Based on the seedings update issued by MaxPreps and the AIA, Window Rock was one of those teams that benefitted from the change, securing the No. 16 seed and a date with No.1 Gilbert Campo Verde Friday at 2 p.m.
Along with the Lady Scouts, No. 2 Tuba City Lady Warriors and No. 4 Monument Valley Lady Mustangs also made the Division III state playoffs.
No. 2 Tuba City plays No. 15 Empire and No. 4 Monument Valley takes on No. 13 Snowflake. Both games are also being played on Friday at 2 p.m.
The Division III state championship game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. All Division III matches will be played at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Ariz.
Relieved to be officially part of the 16-team state playoff field, Holtsoi and the Lady Scouts (13-6) are approaching undefeated Campo Verde (18-0) with a David and Goliath attitude.
"I'm so about David and Goliath with a sling shot," Holtsoi said. "Anything can happen especially at this level. We are being optimistic and feel like we have a chance just like everyone else. It can be done."
Holtsoi also said she's going to rely on her team's strength of schedule to motivate her team. In Division III, Section I play, the Lady Scouts compiled a 13-6 record and lost games against Tuba City and Monument Valley – the only other two schools from the former 3A North conference that qualified for the tournament.
"We seen Tuba play and I'm sure they are no better than Tuba," Holtsoi said about No. 1 Campo Verde. "I think Tuba is tough. The only advantage Campo Verde may have is height."
Beyond playing David versus Goliath, Holtsoi said a huge part of advancing in the state tournament comes down to mental strength.
"It's going to be our mental game," she explained. "We are going to play smart and play tough defense. It's going to come down to our mentality, our mental game."
If Window Rock pulls off the upset in the opening round, they would advance to the quarterfinals to play either No. 8 Safford or No. 9 Thunderbird.
No. 4 Monument Valley is in the same section of the tournament bracket, and wouldn't play Window Rock until the semifinals if both teams advance that far.
"We've seen Safford and M.V. and they are no better than we are," Holtsoi said. "I'm not ruling anything out. I believe my kids can do this. I am putting all my faith into this and giving it our best shot."
For Tuba City, head coach Harlan Barlow is satisfied with the glitch and the outcome it created because it gave his team the No. 2 seed.
"It was actually kind of surprising there was a little glitch and we got No.2," he said of the Lady Warriors, who went 14-3 in Section I, Division III league play. "We're satisfied with that."
Barlow said he doesn't know anything about No. 15 Empire (13-5), adding that seeds don't mean anything during the postseason.
Even though the Lady Warriors aren't looking past Empire, the goal this year is to make to the state finals, Barlow said.
After all, the Lady Warriors have been bridesmaids the last few years, including last year's state playoffs where they lost to eventual Division III runner-up Catalina in the semifinals.
Prior to last year, the Lady Warriors also made the Final Four in 2010, 2009 and 2008. During the 2009 campaign, the Lady Warriors took runner-up honors, losing to 8-time state champion Monument Valley.
If Tuba City wins against Empire today, they will advance to play either No. 7 Catalina or No. 10 Mingus in the quarterfinals on Friday at 8 p.m.
"Our challenge is going to be the second round," Barlow said about possibly playing Catalina in a rematch. "That is what we need to get by first."
As the overall No. 2 seed, Tuba City also has No. 3 Blue Ridge, No. 6 Verrado, No. 11 and defending state champion Seton Catholic and No. 14 Payson in their section of the draw.
"We seen Blue Ridge before," Barlow said while analyzing the draw. "We haven't seen Seton Catholic at all."
Asked about No.1 Campo Verde, Barlow offered this analysis, "Campo Verde beat Seton Catholic in 3 the first meeting and five in the second meeting. I've been looking at their records and it goes back in forth. It can be anyone's game."
With a veteran squad that includes middle hitter Kristen Becenti, outside hitter Shiniya Henry and setters Tate Tsingine and Kamia Yazzie to name a few solid players and a strong bench, Harlow has every reason to think his team has a good chance of winning it all.
"These girls have the experience and know what it takes to get to the next level," Barlow said. "We also know we have to take it one game at a time. We're playing teams who are playing their last games and it's not going to be easy."
If there is one program in Arizona familiar with winning state titles, it's the Monument Valley Lady Mustangs, the 8-time state volleyball champions.
Monument Valley, who sports a 15-2 record from Section I play, enters the postseason as one of the favorites to win the state title.
And unlike last year, where they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Division III state champion Seton Catholic, a No. 11 seed in this year's tournament, the Lady Mustangs are hungrier than ever to reclaim the top spot.
It also helps the Lady Mustangs that archrival Tuba City is on the other side of the draw. Both teams split with each during sectional play, with Monument Valley beating Tuba City in five sets on Sept. 22 and Tuba City returning the favor in four sets on Oct. 11.
"It's nice not to meet up with them," second year head coach Pam Chapman said. "The opposite bracket is good for us."
But to traverse through the bracket and possibly into the title game, the Lady Mustangs must first beat sectional rival Snowflake in the opening round.
Chapman said experience from beating Snowflake earlier in the year – a 25-20, 25-19 victory at the Snow Flake Tournament on Sept. 22 - is an advantage for her team.
"They're a team we can't underestimate," Chapman said about Snowflake. "They're a scrappy team and were picking up digs. We played some close games with them and we're going to use that as an advantage knowing we have experience playing them."
Chapman also said consistencies on both ends of the floor are necessary requisites to go far into the tournament.
"There are times if we overpass, they have to play that smart," she said. "I always tell them to get serves over the net."
She added, "They really need to play as a team and trust each other. We spend a lot of time on communication and talking with each other."
If the Lady Mustangs beat Snowflake on Friday afternoon, they would advance into the quarterfinals to play either No. 5 Cactus or No. 12 Florence Friday evening at 8 p.m.
A victory in the quarterfinals would put them in the semifinals to faceoff with the winner between the No.1 Campo Verde/No.16 Window Rock or No.8 Thunderbird/No.9 Safford in the semifinals at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
The championship game is scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m.
"As we continue, we have to end up in the championship game," Chapman said. "I have full confidence in my team to do well."