PRESCOTT VALLEY No.2 Tuba City’s players collapsed in exhilaration into a massive huddle on the court after senior outside hitter Kristen Becenti put away the final point against No.9 Safford to win the Division III girls volleyball championship.
Coach Harlan Barlow commented that it was the first state championship won by Tuba City (22-7-3). It certainly earned it, winning in three straight game.
“Last time they were here was in 2009-10, and they took runner up,” Barlow said. “Taking state, this meant a lot to them.”
Barlow was hired in the 2010-11 season to carry on the work Evelyn Kiyaani had started with her 21-3 season the previous year.
Becenti only had nine kills in the matc,h but every one of them seemed to come at the perfect moment, including the exclamation mark to end the season.
“She was one of our go-to hitters,” Barlow said. “Without her, we would be here this year.”
Becenti had just returned to the team in October after a knee injury had kept her out most of the season according to Barlow. She didn’t look out of place, though, giving the team another option up front.
For Safford (22-5-1) there was only one option, junior outside hitter and New Mexico State commit Jordan Abalos.
Abalos was as dominant as a player on a losing team could be, racking up 24 kills. Stopping her was the game plan for Barlow, who said he had played her before in the Payson Invitational at the beginning of the season.
“We knew if we shut her down, we shut the rest of the team down,” Barlow said.
Becenti said it was the team’s drive that captured the win, that being there was no longer enough.
“As a team that was our first goal, and we went after it ever since then,” Becenti said.
There were plenty of Tuba City fans at the Tim’s Toyota Center. It seemed to help unnerve Safford just enough to put Tuba City on top.
“A lot of people underestimate us, and it means a lot to have our whole community here,” Becenti said.