FORT DEFIANCE – The finals of the 3rd Annual Window Rock Lady Scouts Volleyball Tournament was worth the admission.
The Chinle Lady Wildcats scored the last three points to upend the host team 16-25, 25-16 and 17-15 at the Bee Hółdzil Fighting Scouts Events Center on Saturday night.
In that final sequence, the Wildcats leaned on its two captains with junior middle hitter Qoah Yazzie placing a dink kill to go up 16-15 before senior setter Hailey Burns got the game-winning block to conclude an intense third set.
“(The ball) was set close to the net and I knew I could get up there,” Burns said. “I went up and it hit my pinky and (the ball) went down.”
Chinle coach Francine McCurtain said she was really proud of her team, especially after rallying from a set down and trailing 4-0 in that deciding set.
“It’s really easy to lose your confidence but my girls played their hearts out,” she said. “It did get a little shaky in that last set being down 4-0, but I let them know that we had to calm down. We needed to stay focus and play it one point at a time.”
With both teams trying to upstage one another the game had some intense moments, especially in that third set.
“Volleyball is a sport that can have quick turnarounds,” McCurtain said. “It went back and forth, so it could have gone either way.”
First year Window Rock coach Ashley Mitchell agreed while noting that some of the rallies were pretty extensive.
“It seemed like it went on forever, but that’s why we play these championship games,” Mitchell said. “The pressure was starting to show, but we had a lot of players play up to their potential, so they did good.”
In some of those rallies, Mitchell said they struggled to keep the ball in play as Chinle found some holes in Window Rock’s defense.
“We struggled with that, but we’re progressing a lot,” she said. “We had to adjust, and I like that my players are very coachable. They’re grasping what we’re trying to teach them.”
Earlier in the tournament, the Mitchell-coached team could not convert on five match points against Winslow in the tournament semifinals. With that they had to win three elimination games to play Chinle in the finals.
“When the pressure was on, we made some mistakes,” Mitchell said of its loss to Winslow.
“It’s something that we had to learn from,” she said. “I’m happy with the way we bounced back because it gave the girls a morale booster, and it brought them together.”
In the championship finals, the Scouts set the tone early in the opening set by taking a 6-2 lead with an ace from sophomore Mia Stefaniak and a kill from senior middle blocker Bre’ James.
The Wildcats reversed course and tied the match at 8-all. The set was tied two more times before the home team pulled away behind nine straight service points from Stefaniak.
In the next set, neither team gained a two-point advantage in the early going until the Wildcats got a spark from outside hitter/defensive specialist Meadow Honie.
The Chinle senior put across nine straight points, which included three aces for a 21-11 cushion. The Wildcats then closed out he set with Yazzie putting down her fourth and fifth kill.
In the third and deciding set, Stefaniak gave the Scouts a 4-0 lead before Chinle came roaring back on a 5-0 run with Honie serving. In that run, she delivered three of her match-high seven aces.
From that moment on, neither team went on long scoring runs as the third set had 11 ties.
Window Rock did have a couple of match points thanks to the hitting of James who finished with a game-best nine kills.
“We got to learn how to finish,” Ashley said. “We just got to be a little more consistent, but I’m really proud of the way my girls fought.”
In addition to James, the Scouts also got eight kills and three aces from senior middle/outside hitter Melicia Nelson.
Chinle meanwhile was led by Yazzie as she finished with seven kills, two stuffs and one ace.
“We had to push through the tough times,” Yazzie said of the comeback win. “If we didn’t get the point, we had to keep reminding them that we’ll get the next one.”
McCurtain said playing in the nine-team tournament allowed her squad to get more time on the floor as well as build some team bonding.
“That is what we want for the girls,” she said. “We ended up coming out on top and that was a lot of fun.”
With the tournament win, Chinle improved to 7-1 overall after Tuesday night’s five set win over Holbrook. McCurtain is looking for her team to stay consistent as they hope to make some noise at next week’s Snowflake tournament as well as the upcoming 3A North conference games.
“I’m really proud of them winning this tournament,” she said. “They’re starting to understand what the level of play they need to be at. There’s still a lot of improvements to be made because when we go down south, we’ll see how fast teams like Snowflake plays.
“We also have some tough region games with Monument Valley and Tuba City, so we have a lot of room to cover,” McCurtain added.
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