The Westwood girls volleyball team had already finished its stay in the Tournament of Champions event the school has hosted for years.
The Warriors played well, good enough to finish better than last year, but were sticking around the main gym and watching the teams in the Gold Bracket play for the TOC title.
A handful of the players were in the front row watching the game played at a level Westwood has yet to reach in 2017.
The Warriors have a different roster make up than most volleyball teams, at least compared to ones playing last in the afternoon on Saturday.
They don’t have a 6-foot-5 hitter on the outside, a member of the U18 USA National team or a defensive stud that seemingly never lets a ball hit the court.
But they do have each other.
“A lot of the teams have these bigger hitters or crazy liberos,” senior middle blocker/opposite hitter Sara Hansen said. “We don’t have anyone like that. We don’t have anyone taller than 5-10. We just count on meshing as a team and use that aspect of our game instead of a really big hitter.”
First-year coach Barbara Drake has watched the players develop since the first match – Aug. 29 – of the season.
The team made the Bronze bracket after going 3-4 overall during the two-day tournament. The finish was level up from last year when the Warriors finished in the Copper bracket.
“I think we are immensely better,” she said. “We took a set of Centennial, which was the 5A state champ last year. We started playing as a unit and that’s what made it possible. We have a lot of similar players and when they play together it makes a big difference.
“We can use as a confidence boost for the rest of the year. When we play together we can play with anyone.”
All seven Mesa-based high schools participated in the tournament with varying degrees of success.
Desert Ridge, Red Mountain and Skyline finished fifth in pool play to earn a spot in the Silver bracket.
The Jaguars lost their first match of bracket play, while the Coyotes won two matches, including a win over Red Mountain in the semifinals, to make the bracket finals where Skyline lost to Desert Vista.
Westwood finished sixth in pool play and lost in the first round of the Bronze bracket, while Dobson had the same fate after finishing seventh in its pool.
Mountain View finished last in pool play to be placed in the Copper bracket, but rebounded to win both of its bracket matches to win the championship.
Mesa had the highest finish after going 6-0 in pool play, including beating Hamilton for the first time in a long time if not history, before falling in the quarterfinals to Basha in the Gold bracket.
“It was a great tournament for us,” Mesa coach Amy Strawn said. “It’s been many years since we made the Gold bracket. I told them getting here is great, but let’s act like we belong. And I think we did.
“We played at a level I don’t think they thought we could reach. Our defensive effort was outstanding and they played together beautifully. Now, can we bring this during the regular season is the question. I think we can.”
The Jackrabbits lost in three sets to Basha, which went onto the Gold finals after upsetting Perry in the semifinals and losing to Corona de Sol in the championship.
One of the reasons Mesa had such a good run was some of the new rotation combinations Strawn tried with her defensive players worked out well.
“Everyone is doing their job better, understanding their role and holding each other accountable,” Strawn said. “I used players differently and they responded.”
Strawn used defensive players Ashley Blackwell, Brandi Long, Calee Cummard and Kaitlyn Foster in varying combinations to get a better feel as to how to use them going forward.
“I’m kind of figuring out how each one of them can help us,” Strawn said. “I call them, “My Littles” but they came up big. I think the fact they didn’t know when or how I was going to use them made them a little more focused. They did well and came together as a unit back there.”
The hope is the Jackrabbits (18-5) walked out the tournament knowing they can match up with anyone as they prepare the region play and the Nile Tournament of Champions next weekend.
“Hopefully we won’t as intimidated by people,” Strawn said. “It should be a great confidence booster for sure.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to email@example.com.