Canyon del Oro Volleyball finishes 2021 season as 4A State Runner-ups

Canyon del Oro. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

It wasn’t the outcome the Dorados were hoping for on Saturday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as Canyon del Oro fell 3-0 to Notre Dame Prep at the 2021 4A Volleyball State Championships. Despite their best efforts, it was almost impossible for the Dorados to stop the Saints, who went marching on to victory after falling short last year themselves. 

Coach Michael Owens said while he doesn’t want to say the team was happy just to be there, he does want to emphasize they were happy for the opportunity to be there and it was possible this year. 

“Coming from Southern Arizona, we always kind of have a chip on our shoulder when it comes to the Phoenix schools,” Owens said. “Usually, if it’s going to be someone, it’s going to be Salpointe representing us. So for us, it was a huge year just to get over the hump of ‘Hey, we beat Salpointe.’”

Things got off to a rough start from the beginning, as Canyon del Oro found themselves quickly trailing Notre Dame Prep 15-3. The Dorados called a timeout trying to regroup before the first set slipped away. 

Coming back out, Canyon del Oro started to generate some energy on the court and looked like they might make a push to stay in the round. However, sophomore Evan Hendrix of the Saints was determined to close out the set. With a handful of kills from Hendrix to finish things up, Notre Dame Prep was able to easily take set one 25-10. 

The Dorados started off the second set with much more energy, taking an early 4-1 lead. After knotting it up at six, the Saints continued to ride the momentum shift to a 12-8 lead. More costly errors led Canyon del Oro to allow the saints to jump out to a 16-9 lead before calling a timeout in set two. 

Leading the charge, junior Alina Nunez helped the Dorados get back into the game with some nasty kills. With Canyon del Oro trailing 22-15, they called another timeout to formulate a plan of attack to come back and win. Despite their best efforts, the Saints were able to fight on to a 25-20 win in set two, coming on a controversial line call by the officials. 

Putting Canyon del Oro in a must-win situation, the Dorados could feel the opportunity slipping away. In the third set, they called a timeout to try to stop Notre Dame Prep’s momentum after falling behind 9-3 yet again. 

It wouldn’t be enough to stop the Saints, who were able to feed off the energy and run away to a 25-12 win in set three to sweep the Dorados. 

“Notre Dame is awesome. There’s really only one way we figured we could actually compete, and they just made it hard for us to be as aggressive as we wanted to be,” Owens said. 

It was a heartbreaking loss for seniors on the team like Abby Whatton, a varsity player for all four years with the program. 

“This year, I feel like our team is just more tight knit than it has been in the past,” Whatton said. “We worked so hard. The team’s great, it’s so supportive and it’s just more of a community than it ever has been,” Whatton said.  

While it was a crushing loss, the Dorados are optimistic for the future with this group. One of the biggest things to look forward to is the return of players like Nunez, who’s been a powerful force on the court all season. 

“All of these players are year round volleyball players and they take it very seriously,” Owens said. “We can only see this program getting better. The loss of the seniors is going to be huge, because they were a big stabilizing force and obviously have skill. But, I think we are building something that year-to-year can build on itself, so it’s pretty awesome.”

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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