In a match between the 5A Southern Region's top girls volleyball programs, Ironwood Ridge defeated Salpointe Catholic in three games Wednesday before a big, loud crowd on the Nighthawk campus.
Coach Bill Lang's squad, off to a La Jolla, Calif., tourney this weekend, used the all-around superlative play of Michaela Christiaansen and other contributions to beat the Lancers, 25-20, 25-20 and 25-22.
"We played steady, without too much emotion," Lang said after the triumph. He was pleased with the demeanor, because it would have been easy to get too excited, given the rivalry, a jumping house and the familiarity each squad has with the other. And, Lang pointed out, in the last four years, "the regional championship has gone through this match."
Christiaansen spiked from the back row, placed several jump serves, hit with power and recognized the proper play repeatedly. On consecutive rallies in a close first game, she "dinked" Chloe Heinemann sets rather than powering kills, giving the Nighthawks points and a 20-15 lead. Erin Hohenstein, solid at service all night, finished the first game with a long kill.
From an 11-11 tie in the second game, Ironwood Ridge senior Morgan Eaton, a 6-1 middle blocker, twice blocked for points, then leaped at the net to kill a too-long Salpointe return of serve. Heinemann tipped ably for a point, then found Eaton on the "slide," setting behind her head to the tall player looping away from the middle, then back toward the net on the right side. Meghan Finley stuffed 6-2 Lancer Catie Coyle, and the home squad had another 25-20 win.
When Christiaansen served Ironwood Ridge into a 9-4 third-game lead, Salpointe coach Amy Johnson called for time out. The Lancers responded with the match's longest rally, but the Nighthawks claimed the point. Salpointe came within two, 18-16, before Finley hit hard on a slide to fend off the youthful visitors.
Christiaansen, who had 17 kills, is "one of the top 12 players in Arizona," Lang said, "but she can't be effective if the other players are not involved." Ironwood Ridge is at its best when Finley, with five kills and six blocks; Eaton, with four kills and two blocks, and Hohenstein, who served three aces, are winning points with play at the net, he said.
The California tourney features 60 teams. It is "a high-level tournament," if not an elite high school volleyball event.
"It fits us," Lang said. "It's a big challenge for us. We want to learn how to compete, and play at a high level." He's also looking to give more opportunities to a junior-dominated squad, and promote growth in character and bonding off the court.