YUMA, Ariz. –Despite holding a 2-1 set lead, the Arizona Western College volleyball team was in trouble on Friday night in the Region I Final. The Lady Mats (21-5 overall) were down 13-11 to Yavapai College (19-9 overall) in the fourth set, and Yavapai was on a roll. After AWC head coach Lorayne Chandler earned a yellow card, the Lady Mats bounced back. The team ripped off five straight points to retake the lead for good before winning the set 25-20 and taking the match. AWC won the first two sets 25-10 and 25-21 before dropping the third set 25-19.
Chandler’s yellow card brought back the intensity, and the players responded. After a Yavapai hitting error, Haylee Paladini killed an overpass that tied the match at 13. Yeny Montoya Murillo smashed down a monster kill. Live Tonga aced a serve, and Lisbeth Rosario Martinez stuffed a Yavapai attack on an overpass for a 16-13 lead.
YC called timeout and scored, but AWC never relented and extended the lead. Tonga finished the set off with a cross court winner from the right side for her 11th kill of the match. She hit .688 and added six digs, four blocks and three aces.
Montoya Murillo was named the Region I Tournament MVP, and the sophomore from Colombia delivered when AWC needed a point. She led the team with 16 kills while picking up 12 digs.
Arizona Western came out on fire in the first set. The Lady Mats jumped out to a 6-1 lead after a block and kill by Tonga, and Yavapai had to call timeout. Tonga followed it up with a kill and two aces, and AWC led by seven. Montoya Murillo stretched the lead to 12-3 with back-to-back kills, and the set was effectively over from there.
Yavapai tightened up in the second set and took a 9-8 lead off a Lacie Tenney kill. AWC responded with three straight to make it 11-9 and force a timeout.
The two sides see-sawed back and forth through the middle of the set, alternating kills and points. Yavapai took a 20-19 lead on a Victoria McCarty ace, and AWC called timeout.
Out of the timeout, Tonga tied it immediately with a kill off a nice slide set, and AWC ripped off a 6-1 run that ended the match. Montoya Murillo smacked a kill to line up set point, and Tonga and Paladini walled up for a double block to end the set 25-21.
The third set was a sloppy set for both sides. AWC had errors early on that put Yavapai up 5-3, but Montoya Murillo and Kiara Erving answered with kills that tied it up at five.
The score stayed close, and both teams again traded kills and points as they reached double digits. AWC broke a 14-14 tie with three straight points to take a 17-14 lead.
Yavapai called time, and the Roughriders took off on an 11-2 run after the break to finish off the set. YC scored the final six points after the score was tied at 19.
In the fourth set, AWC raced out to a 4-0 lead behind two kills by Montoya Murillo, a kill by Tonga and a net call on Yavapai. YC took a timeout and answered with a 12-5 spurt to take a 12-9 lead and force an AWC timeout. Tonga and Montoya Murillo both had kills after the timeout to cut the lead to 12-11, but Yavapai answered with a block for a 13-11 lead as Chandler earned the yellow card. From that point on, AWC outscored Yavapai 14-7 in the furious finish.
Neyshlian Roman Concepcion led Arizona Western with 31 digs, and Teuila Lolotai added 24 assists and 17 digs to go with two aces. Paladini had 10 kills for AWC. The Region title was Chandler’s second in her four seasons as the head coach for AWC.
The Lady Mats head out on the road on Tuesday, but their opponent is still TBD. AWC plays the winner of the Region V tournament, which finishes tomorrow.
Arizona Western College is one of the top community colleges in Arizona. The college boasts partnerships with all three state universities that include face-to-face classes in Yuma.