TUCSON — In movies, the road trip is a clichéd storytelling device where those involved always end up using the forced sequester as an opportunity to come together as one for a common goal.
It apparently works for high school boys volleyball teams, too. Just ask Desert Vista.
The Thunder used a two-hour bus trip to Tucson on Saturday as the perfect motivating springboard for a pair of energized playoff victories, defeating rival Mountain Pointe in the first round then upsetting host Sahuaro in the second round of the Division I state tournament.
“This was a good team bonding type of experience,” senior Marshall Rooney said after his team’s 3-1 (24-26, 25-23, 25-17, 25-21) win against third-seeded Sahuaro. “I was a little bit worried after we lost that first game, but I figured we could fight back.”
The win moves No. 14 Desert Vista into a quarterfinal match against No. 6 Brophy in Tuesdays quarterfinals at 7 p.m..
After struggling with consistency throughout the regular season, Desert Vista played two of its most complete matches on Saturday, coach Ryan Tolman said.
It helped to have an enthusiastic bench cheering on those sprawling and diving all over the court.
“When you’re on the road and don’t have a lot of fans, it sure does help to have that support,” Tolman said. “We tend to bring our own energy.”
Desert Vista had a big burst of power to rally from a 20-13 first game deficit, eventually getting to game point at 24-22. But Sahuaro ended up scoring the next four points to eek out a victory.
The Cougars seemed to be controlling the match by leading most of the second game, but a combination of passing mistakes and Desert Vista’s attacking of the middle kept things close until the Thunder scored four of the last six points to knot the match at a game apiece.
Desert Vista entered the second round contest with little information about Sahuaro, who went 18-0 in power point games but never left Southern Arizona until dropping three matches in a late April tournament in Phoenix.
Tolman said his players just had to rely on “feeling out” the Cougars’ strategy and find places to exploit it, an approach that resulted in each of the four games becoming more and more turned in Desert Vista’s favor.
“We played a really tough schedule, arguably the toughest schedule in the state,” Tolman said. “We didn’t win all of those games, but we played well and had the confidence to know we could beat anybody.”
Before beating Sahuaro, Desert Vista had to overcome the odd scenario of facing their crosstown rival in a nearly empty gym more than 100 miles from home. Based on the Thunder’s performance, though, this wasn’t a problem, as they easily beat No. 19 Mountain Pointe 3-0 (25-20, 25-14, 25-15).
It was Desert Vista’s third win in four attempts this season against Mountain Pointe.
Pride coach Fred Mann said he was surprised at how poorly his team played in the first round, stopping short of placing too much blame on pre-game travel.
“I don’t know if it was the drive or what, but we didn’t play well,” Mann said. “I thought we could have fought better.”
Pedersen is a Tucson-based freelance writer.