Gilbert VB topples Ironwood Ridge

November 4, 2021 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

Gilbert's Raegan Richardson (8) makes a play at the net in the Tigers 5A state tournament first round match. (AzPreps365)

Gilbert's volleyball team didn't have to survive a play-in match to reach the state tournament this year. It appears it made a difference.

After winning play-in matches three years in a row only to bow out in the first round of state all three years, the third-seeded Tigers began in the round of 16 and rolled to a 25-19, 25-15, 25-16 victory over #14 Ironwood Ridge at The Jungle.

Gilbert (16-2) moves on to the quarters on Tuesday Nov. 9 against a familiar opponent - region rival and #6 seed Casteel. Casteel advanced by defeating #11 Paradise Valley, 3-1. Gilbert swept Casteel twice in region play this season. Ironwood Ridge finished its season 11-8.

Gilbert never trailed in any set and felt the most resistance from Ironwood Ridge in the opening set. The Tigers led by as many as five late (22-17). The Nighthawks closed to within 22-19, but a service error, a kill and an ace by Naia Stewart closed it out.

The second set got away from Ironwood Ridge early. A 14-7 lead aided by two aces from Gilbert's Vanja Djekic and kill by freshman hitter Raegan Richardson allowed the Tigers to finish with ease.

The third set was more peril for Ironwood Ridge. The Nighthawks trailed 14-6, but managed to perk up cutting the margin to 16-12. It was all Gilbert to the end. Three aces from McKenzie Schoenhardt and two kills each by Stewart and Sydney Mahon finished a one-hour match.

It was a strong outing - as usual in Gilbert coach Joe Hesse's mind - by Schoenhardt.

"Our libero (Schoenhardt) was great tonight," Hesse said. "I think she's as good as there is. She kind of goes unnoticed."

Schoenhardt, a junior, piled up 26 digs. Front line players Mahon, Richardson and Elli Walker had two blocks apiece. Offensively Stewart and Mahon collected 11 kills each and Walker added six. Setter Alex Johnson had 32 assists.

Ironwood Ridge's kills leader for the season - Allison Birtcil - led her team with 10.

Hesse shrugged off the notion the match might be easy playing a #14 seed.

"Bill Lang is as good a coach as there is," Hesse said. "Been doing it a long time. We seemed to have some jitters early, but settled down and needed to."

All the 5A high seeds won their first-round matches on Thursday. The quarterfinal match-ups for Tuesday Nov. 9 - #8 Campo Verde at #1 Horizon; #5 Arcadia at #4 Cactus Shadows; Casteel at Gilbert; #7 Sunrise Mountain at #2 Millennium.