Catalina Foothills volleyball rally falls short in first-round playoff loss

Looking at the final score of the 5A Volleyball State Playoff match between No. 8 Campo Verde and No. 9 Catalina Foothills can be, in a way, misleading. Forcing set one to 28-26 and set two to 29-27, the Falcons were like a pesky fly buzzing around as the ‘Yotes attempted to squash it. While the Falcons fell 3-1 on the road in a rowdy atmosphere, the endurance of the Catalina Foothills players kept them in it until the end. 

“Honestly, I’m really proud of how they played tonight. Just like I told them as we walked out of here, I know it’s hard when you have such a home crowd cheering for them. I told them, ‘Heads up when we walk out of here,’” Coach Nic Thiltges said. 

Things got off to a rough start for the young Falcons squad, as they were quickly digging out of a 6-1 hole. However, after the ball was hit out of bounds by Campo Verde to make it 6-2, Catalina Foothills slowly but surely started making a comeback. A kill from senior Lauren Rumel helped the Falcons tie things up at 12. 

It was back and forth again for a while as both teams fought for the lead before Campo Verde was able to jump out to a 21-17 lead. With a student section egging them on, Catalina Foothills was able to feed off the energy, eventually coming back to tie things 24-24 on a kill from sophomore Molly Brunell

After taking a 26-25 lead, a dig error, an ace and a kill allowed Campo Verde to come back and put away Catalina Foothills 28-26 in set one. 

With Campo Verde jumping out to a 6-2 lead once again in set two, Catalina Foothills really had to work hard to come together as a team to lift themselves out of the hole. Rumel and Brunell went on a tear, helping to chop away at the lead, making it 9-7. However, the ‘Yotes answered by going on a 7-2 run to extend the lead, making it 16-9.

A momentum shift on the court allowed Catalina Foothills to get back in the game, rallying to make it 21-19 and forcing Campo Verde to call a timeout. As the Falcons continued to try to edge their way in front, they were forced to call a timeout shortly after, trailing 23-20. 

Finding the focus to come back and take the 24-23 lead, the Falcons couldn’t hold on to it. A serving error allowed Campo Verde to find new life in the set and stay alive. Riding the wave of energy towards the end, the Coyotes took set two 29-27. 

Set three was a bit closer from the start, with Rumel dropping the hammer quite a bit to keep it 5-5. From there, Brunell was able to start attacking more, helping extend the lead to 10-7. Campo Verde was playing catch up this time, calling a timeout as the Coyotes were trailing 16-12. 

“We put blood, sweat and tears out there. We left it all on the court and I couldn’t be more proud of the team and the effort we put it,” Rumel said. 

The timeout didn’t stop Catalina Foothills momentum, though, as they continued to extend their lead. After falling behind 20-15, Campo Verde called another timeout in an attempt to catch up. It wouldn’t be enough, though, as the Falcons were able to swoop in and take set three 25-22. 

With their backs still on the wall, the Falcons knew they’d have to find a way to win to survive and force a set five. Keeping the competition close, it was all tied up again by five. Campo Verde slowly but surely was able to start making a push towards a solid lead, forcing Catalina Foothills to call a timeout trailing 12-8. 

Their attempt to slow down Campo Verde’s momentum was no good this time, as the Coyotes worked their way to a 17-11 lead. 

Insistent on staying in the game, Brunell was able to make a play by just floating the ball over the net to an empty hole on the floor to change up the momentum. From there, Catalina Foothills was sprinting towards the end of the set, coming back to make it 20-17 and forcing another timeout. 

In a fight until the end, Campo Verde was able to deliver the knockout blow, taking set four 25-19. 

“They gave it their all, and that’s all we can ask for as a coach, that each player comes in and gives it their all,” Thiltges said. He continued, “As far as the underclassmen, I told them, ‘Hey, welcome to the big stage. Welcome to the big leagues. This is what it takes for us, next year, to make it to state.’”

For Rumel, it was a tough loss as she closed the door on what was an incredibly successful high school career. She leads the state in kills this season with 596, and has a kill percentage of 51.7-percent. She also is walking away with a career total of 1205 kills during her four years with the program, along with 684 digs. From her freshman to her senior season, her dig rate more than quadrupled.

“I’m just so thankful we got a season, first of all, and I couldn’t have done any of it without the support of my teammates. I can’t tell you how crucial they were to my success, as far as knowing they always have my back and they’re cheering me on,” Rumel said.  

“My hat goes off to her. It’s been my pleasure to have coached (Rumel) for four years at Catalina Foothills. She’s a tremendous athlete, super coachable and super humble,” Thiltges said. 

As one door closes, another opens, and next year Rumel will be continuing to play volleyball at the next level for the University of Arizona. 

“I’m excited to play in the Pac-12,” Rumel said. “Honestly, I’ve looked up to it my whole life. Now that I’m finally getting to step into that moment and onto that stage, it’s all I’ve been wanting to do my entire career. I feel like my hard work has paid off, but I’m not done yet. There’s still a lot more that I can accomplish and I’m looking forward to working towards that.”

“She’s one of the nicest girls that I’ve ever coached, and I wish her the best of luck next year at the U of A,” Thiltges said. 

Unfortunately for the young squad, it was a long ride back to Tucson, but Coach Thiltges is still optimistic with the level of potential in the returners for next season. He hopes Rumel’s legacy will help the returners as they look to make a deeper run in the playoffs next year.

“Honestly, in the 12 years I’ve been there, this is by far one of the most talented groups we’ve had come through the program, and hopefully next year we’ll be here again,” Thiltges said. “These girls now know what they’re walking into next year as far as the shoes that they need to fill.”

“I hope that I imparted a lot of my wisdom on them, and I hope that they can carry this program for the next few years,” Rumel said. 

Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07

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