Cienega playing for first state boys volleyball championship since 2017

Laced with each of their shoes Thursday night was a tag including the names of the Cienega seniors from last season who could not compete for a state championship because of COVID-19 canceling the season.

Laced with the shoes worn by Cienega’s coaches and players on Thursday night were tags with the names of the seniors who had their season taken away last year because of COVID-19.

Carson Mott.

Bryce Marks.

Isaiah Byrd.

Tristan Emma.

Jordan Palmore.

The Bobcats were 8-1 when the season was canceled. This year’s team is 20-0 and is in the 5A state championship, which the program won in 2017.

Names of some of last year’s seniors on a tag laced to coach Heather Mott’s shoes (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“They’re not playing for themselves, they’re playing for the disaster that was last year and they’re very capable. I mean, obviously, they’re very capable,” said Cienega coach Heather Mott, who has the opportunity to lead the No. 2 Bobcats to another title when they play top seed Casteel (20-1) on Saturday at Mesa Skyline High School at 3 p.m.

The Bobcats defeated No. 3 Gilbert in four sets on Thursday night (25-17, 25-22, 18-25, 25-17) in the semifinal match.

Grand Canyon University recruit Matthew Meeker-Hackett tallied four kills in the last set. He had nine kills and three blocks overall. His ace ended the match, sending the Bobcats and their vociferous crowd into a frenzy.

Cienega is in position to win its second state title in five seasons (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Meeker-Hackett, a 6-foot-7 middle blocker who leads the Bobcats with 173 kills and 103 blocks, ran around the throng of celebratory Cienega players in jubilation after his ace, with his fists flying in the air.

“I just started running; I was freaking out,” he said. “I don’t have words for it. It was what we needed.”

A 9-0 run in the deciding set that gave Cienega a 15-7 lead showed the Bobcats’ balance. Derrick Vargas had a couple of kills in that run, setter Aiden VanHoesen tallied two blocks, and Austin Keen and Taylor Allen each had a kill.

Keen, a senior, had a block and two kills in succession to give Cienega a 22-16 lead. After Gilbert’s 6-foot-7 hitter Trenton Moser had one of his 25 kills in the game to cut the lead to 22-17, the Bobcats scored the last three points, capped by Meeker-Hackett’s ace, to secure the victory.

Keen, who has been accepted into Arizona’s business school, credited unsung senior libero Alston Allen and the setting of VanHoesen and Jaden Bramhall as important factors for the win.

“It feels amazing,” Keen said of achieving his first state championship appearance in his third season at the varsity level. “Last year, after tryouts, we all sat down as a team and we all had one common goal — win state.

“We had some great kids last year who couldn’t be with us. I’d love it if they could be here with us. We have our guys right here, all 12 of them. I love all of them. They’re like brothers.”

Cienega is 20-0 overall and 65-5 in its sets this season (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Keen tallied 11 kills and two blocks. VanHoesen, somewhat of an emergency replacement at setter this year after the graduation of Carson Mott, was responsible for setting most of the kills for Meeker-Hackett and Keen against Gilbert.

“This kid who is setting right now has never set a season in his life,” Heather Mott said of VanHoesen. “He was a hitter on our team last year. We looked around; he’s sharing that responsibility with Jaden Bramhall. … We had to work hard to replace that piece but they have killed it.”

Cienega last captured a title in 2017 with Mott’s sons Carson and McLain integral members of that team.

Mott became only the sixth local coach to win a boys volleyball title joining the likes of Andrea Fyock (Catalina Foothills in 2006 and 2007), Sandy Novak (Sahuaro in 2009) and Heather Moore-Martin (Catalina in 2010 and 2011).

“Coach Mott pushes us to places I do not think we could be pushed,” Meeker-Hackett said. “Once we get to our match point, she pushes us even further. That’s what separates us from other teams.”

When the Bobcats beat Horizon Honors in five sets in 2017 for the title, Mott had the team wear the names of the seniors from her previous three years (since her hire in 2014) on their shoes as an inspiration to get the job done for them.

Mott has also developed two galvanizing slogans for her program: “We haven’t earned anything” and “Pressure is a privilege.”

Remaining unbeaten to this point, going 65-5 in sets, carries a significant amount of pressure. Mott is accustomed to the pressure to succeed with a 164-54 record overall, including a 58-2 regional record since her first season seven years ago.

“We believe that the pressure is there to make us better,” Mott said. “That’s what we’re gonna do for our school, for each other, and for those seniors from last year. We’re going to do that for everybody.

“We have been very diligent in our gym, day after day after day replacing huge pieces from last year and making the new pieces work. So it’s hats off to these boys. It’s a tribute to this group because they have a lot of heart and they have a bigger purpose. When kids have a bigger purpose than themselves, good things happen.”


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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