By Andrew Lwowski
After coming a mere one point shy of reaching the state finals last season, the Corona del Sol girls volleyball team knew what it took to get back and complete its mission.
After cruising past the Chandler Wolves in the opening round, then handling Queen Creek in four sets in the quarterfinals and defeating Perry in four in the semis, the Aztecs finished the job and took down the defending champion Hamilton Huskies in five hard-earned sets.
Corona and Hamilton traded set-for-set, leading to the fifth, but before the fifth set began it was clear who was going to win. The Aztecs were loose and dancing while Hamilton was tense.
Just as the Aztecs had been doing all night, they kept feeding senior outside Kierstyn Barton. The power and momentum carried Corona to a 10-3 lead, without looking back as they closed the match with banner in hand.
However, the story may have been different if it were not for last year’s experience.
Coach Ben Maxfield said the moment in last year’s postseason may have prepared his team more than anything.
“They knew what it took to get that far, and also learned how to react differently when things aren’t going very well,” Maxfield said. “They used that all year. I never saw—this whole season—a moment of panic. There was a little frustration, but I didn’t see panic.”
Last season the Aztecs lost in devastating fashion. Now, they have the sweet taste of success.
Barton and senior middle blocker Ella Lomigora experienced devastating heartbreak in the semi-finals against Sandra Day O’Connor, being up two sets to none, with game point in third, and lost.
Knowing the pain, Lomigora said this year’s team played for one another.
“Playing for each other and (kept) having fun,” she said. “We worked so hard to get here; this is for everybody—for all the time, all the work, all the blood, sweat and tears.
“It’s like a blackout; I couldn’t even remember what happened, but running back out onto the court and hugging everybody.”
Barton, one of the leaders physically and emotionally, said there was only one word to describe the feeling: redemption. The support from her teammates guided her to a monster night as she finished with 24 kills, five of those coming in the final set.
“It showed me that my teammates really relied on me,” she said. “That gave me a little trust in them to be able to make sure that they can help me out and I can help them out.”
This is the first time since 2016 that the women’s team won the 6A state title, and the first time since then that Corona has brought home a championship banner. The program has continued to be strengthened by Maxfield as well as the Aztec community.
“To me, I think that’s huge,” Maxfield said. “I think that’s great to put the Aztecs back on the map and show that we are still an athletic powerhouse.”