A year after missing the postseason, essentially because of a bad run in September along with a faulty power ranking system, the Thunder are clearly playing with a different edge in the early going this year.
The Thunder entered Tuesday’s match at home against Corona del Sol at 13-3 and should be sitting in the top 10 when the first power rankings are released by the AIA on Tuesday.
It’s a good start after Desert Vista had a tough go last September when the Thunder lost to Mountain Pointe, Corona and Gilbert to put then in catch-up mode the rest of the season and fell just short finishing 18th to miss the 16-team field.
Consider it a lesson learned.
“Overall, we are where we want to be,” Thunder coach Molly West said. “The power points are really significant, as we know. Right now, it is not really about who we are playing. We just want to get the power points.
“We were playing our best volleyball at the end last year, but it didn’t matter.”
The Thunder has been strong since falling to Hamilton in the season opener. They had won five straight regular season matches entering Tuesday’s tilt against Corona. Additionally, Desert Vista advanced to the Gold finals at the Westwood Tournament of Champions, going 8-2 losing to Hamilton and Horizon.
“They are really good teams and it showed us we have to get better,” West said. “We are still evolving. We are getting better every day and we have so much more to do.”
West has 16 players on the roster, something she rarely does, but three starters from last year’s squad have either been limited or haven’t played at all because of injuries.
While Desert Vista, which swept Mountain Pointe in three games last week, has missed junior middle blocker Vanessa Wesley, sophomore hitter Maggie Byrne-Quinn and senior outside hitter/libero Peyton Shuckhart, their absence has allowed younger players like Hailey Harward (93 kills), Olivia Fairchild and Rachel Kramer to play important minutes to develop depth.
“The younger players are getting more experience and that’s the good part,” West said. “Hailey has been great and Olivia has done a good job on the outside. They have a lot of potential.
“It’s kind of nice, but it would be even better if we could have everyone available.”
Until then the Thunder will continue to rely on seniors Michelle Steagall, Brooke Honeycutt, Kate McFarlane and Sydney Schumacher to keep it rolling.
Honeycutt led the team with 136 kills and 44 kills after last week’s action, while McFarlane had a team-high 21 aces and Schumacher is second (11). Schumacher was second in digs (108) and McFarlane (105) was third.
“The larger roster is working out well because we’ve needed it,” West said. “The other thing has been the team chemistry. They get along well, have fun, and work hard.”
If they finish September strong then Desert Vista will be one step ahead of last season’s letdown.
“We know we have to get every win we can,” West said. “We have a large senior class and they always play with a level of urgency so I think we will stay focused.”
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