Like any good coach would be, Livia Peace is a bit conflicted about the end of the 2009 season.
On one hand, her Horizon Honors girls volleyball team did finish its best season ever with the best finish in a state tournament by any team in school history – in any sport. The Eagles also pushed eventual Class 2A champions Valley Christian harder in the state semis than any other 2A team had all season, putting Horizon within a kill here, an ace there, of playing for the school’s first-ever state title.
“I think that’s an exciting part of coaching, is watching your team do what nobody expects of them,” said Peace, a former college volleyball player herself, just finishing her third year at the helm for Horizon.
Yet, on the other hand, she notes: “That’s a hard (match) to think about, even now.”
When you finish 22-6 overall, 6-1 in region play, a spotless 8-0 at home – this could go on and on – it’s hard to look at a singular matchup to define a season. In some respects, however, that’s how the Eagles’ state semifinal with Valley Christian might be looked at, at least for the immediate future.
“Wins and losses are a little bit more meaningful when we’re playing Valley Christian. It’s just a natural rival,” Peace said.
Horizon took the Trojans to the brink, sending four of the maximum five games in the Nov. 7 match into extra-point territory before bowing out in the fifth (28-26, 25-27, 25-17, 26-28, 18-16). Valley Christian went on to win the championship just a few hours later, defeating Thatcher in a much less competitive four game match.
Coming that close to their own title shot, Peace said, is something she and her players cherish as an accomplishment for certain. But it’s also what makes the end of the season that much harder to swallow.
“Ever since I’ve been there, the seasons have just gotten better and better,” she said. “This is the first year I’ve had more than 10 girls on my true varsity squad … they’ve already come a long way.
“They’re a great group. They just keep getting better and better,” she added.
With five seniors on the 2009 roster – including libero Terah Fullman and outside hitter Melissa New, both co-captains – departing, Peace knows that she’s going to need some of the younger blood in the program to step up and take more a leadership position if Horizon wants to stay in its current spot as one of the state’s new elite teams.
“I think we’re definitely going to be missing those (seniors) for sure,” Peace said, noting the vocal leadership Fullman provided the Eagles. “It’s (Fullman’s) third year being a captain. She’s one that will definitely go on to play college.”
Fullman led the Eagles in digs as a defensive specialist, while junior Jessica Laflin paced Horizon with more than 175 kills, and nearly 50 blocks. Peace said Laflin, also a co-captain this season, will be one of the keys to next year’s team, providing leadership and experience to a still-improving squad.
“I think one of the main differences between us and a team like Valley Christian is that Valley Christian has always had a very decent to excellent program,” she said. “We’re just getting good.
Peace said she hopes that the team’s 2009 playoff run, coupled with a greater excitement for the program around campus – “This is the first time our stands were that packed; guys were there with face paint and everything. This is the first time I’ve seen that here,” she noted – helps convince the school’s middle school volleyball players to stick around and play for Horizon in high school. As a kindergarten through 12-grade charter school, Peace said some Horizon Community Learning Center junior high students looking for stronger athletic programs might leave for nearby schools like Seton Catholic or Valley Christian, both in Chandler, or even larger, local public schools.
“I’m hoping that this kind of thing will draw some more interest and convince some of those kids to stay,” she said.