5A VOLLEYBALL: Taking a closer look at the top seeds

November 4, 2016 by Andy Morales, AZPreps365

No. 1 Centennial (23-9 overall, 17-0 in power-ranking games)


The Coyotes have been led this year by longtime assistant coach Cari Bauer. Bauer was hired to replaced Carly Bourland after Bourland retired with 16 years invested in the program. Bourland led the team to a 5A D-II state championship in 2008 and she finished her career with a first-round appearance last year in the Division I playoffs.

The Coyotes enter the postseason undefeated in power-ranking games but they did lose to No. 3 Sunnyslope in the Gilbert Invitational.

“I attribute the success of the season to a few things,” Bauer said. “From the first day of practice, the girls bought in to what was going to be expected of them and what things were going to have to happen in order for us to progress as a team. We have also had a high hitting percentage out of the middle. We have girls that have played at high levels and have modeled what is expected.  The bottom line is that we have proven what level we can play at; we just need to be execute every facet of our game as we make a run.”

NOTE: Three seniors have committed to the next level: Kara Spicer to Appalachian State, Dani Wiley to Chaminade University in Hawaii and Reagan Leonard to Fresno State.


No. 2 Sahuaro (33-2, 16-1)


Rachel Balsiger is in her fifth year with the Cougars and this year has been one of the best ever regular seasons completed by a team from Southern Arizona. Like Centennial, the Cougars have a loss to Sunnyslope. Sahuaro also lost to No. 9 Chaparral in the Nike Tournament of Champions. The Cougars made it to the quarterfinal round of the D-II playoffs last year.

“Something unique about our team is that we have nine players,” Balsiger said. “We see this as more of a unique characteristic our team, rather than an obstacle, because the small number of athletes has really brought the team together and keeps everyone accountable for their role on the team.”

NOTES: Brielle Sterns committed to play volleyball and run track at New Mexico State.

There are three Nash sisters on the team: Morgan Nash (Senior), Abi Nash (Junior) and Madi Nash (Junior). Morgan is a setter. The twins (Abi and Madi) are both Outside Hitters.


No. 3 Sunnyslope (25-13, 15-1)


The Vikings lost to No. 5 Verrado but, as pointed out above, the team beat both Centennial and Sahuaro this year.  The Vikings also beat No. 4 Ironwood Ridge. Head coach Amber LeTarte is a proven winner. She took the program over in 2006 and then went on to win a state championship in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. She made the semifinal round in 2007 and 2015 and both of those finishes were five-set losses to eventual state champions including a loss to eventual D-I state champion Desert Vista last year.


No. 4 Ironwood Ridge (20-18, 13-4)


Bill Lang passed the 400-win mark this year and is sitting at 415, putting him in second place in Southern Arizona for wins in a girl’s program. Legendary Rincon/University coach Juanita Kingston retired with 455 wins and 671 wins total when combined with her wins in the boy’s program. Lang has 633 combined wins.

Ironwood Ridge made in to the D-II first round last year as the 5th seed.

“Our leaders this season are Jaclyn Inclan, Morgan Gappmayer and Nicole Feltman – they are our big three,” Lang explained.

“We played a tough schedule for this group and we hope that has prepared us for the postseason.  Practices are focused because we have so much film on us playing good teams and good players.  We struggle with our serve reception (we’ve been through five Liberos so far) so we really try to do good job in transition and can finish when needed.”