Gilbert — The 2022 Beach Volleyball season officially came to a close for the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks on Monday evening following a crushing loss to the Gilbert Tigers in the first round of the playoffs. For coach Bill Lang, the loss stings a little extra, as it’s the first time since he helped start the program where they failed to advance out of the first round.
“This (loss) is especially hard, because we’ve always been able to make it past the first round,” Lang said. “We just weren’t able to do it this year.”
It was the second meeting between the two teams this season, with the first being at the start of the season, where Ironwood Ridge was able to work to a 3-2 win. Struggling to build a lead, the No. 11 Nighthawks just didn’t have what it took to overcome the strong offense of the No. 6 Gilbert Tigers, dropping the match 5-0.
“We expected to see something different,” Lang said. “We expected we’d have a better day weather wise. We also expected they’d be a lot more improved… There’s a few things we knew were going to be similar, but a lot of stuff was different.”
Things got off to a rough start early for the Nighthawks in the first two flights. Teammates Isabella Lang and Daniella Alameda struggled to kick things off, quickly falling behind 8-3 and calling a timeout. Despite their best efforts to rally back, the momentum was on Gilbert’s side. The Tigers snagged the first set 21-13.
Gilbert freshman Raegan Richardson continued to be relentless at the net, making it a nightmare for the Nighthawks in the second set. Slamming their way to a 21-6 victory in set two, the Gilbert Tigers were able to take an early 1-0 lead over Ironwood Ridge.
Flight two also saw the Nighthawks struggle to generate offense in the first set. Teammates Cassandra Davis and Angelina Ruiz fell 21-11 as the Tigers made the victory look easy. Continuing to toy with the ‘Hawks, the Tigers clawed their way to a 21-14 victory to make it 2-0 and turn up the pressure.
The third flight looked like it could shake things up a bit and bring a breath of fresh air to the Nighthawks. After exchanging blows with Gilbert to start off the first set, juniors Jasmine Lord and Taylor Crawford were able to break away and start building up a lead midway through. After being tied up at 12, Ironwood Ridge went on a 9-2 run to snag set one from Gilbert.
Ironwood Ridge’s third flight started out the second set strong, holding on to the lead for a majority of it. However, after taking a 16-15 lead, the Gilbert Tigers kept fighting to take set two 21-16 and force a set three.
#11 Ironwood Ridge at #6 Gilbert for the First Round of the 2022 Division I State Tournament.
5️⃣ Davis/Ruiz pic.twitter.com/X1tNJLXNxu
— Nighthawk Beach Volleyball (@NighthawkBeach) April 18, 2022
Gilbert came ready to play in set three, where they quickly jumped out to the lead and never looked back. After taking a 15-7 victory in set three, Gilbert was able to get the 2-1 edge to give their team another point towards the team win and solidify the victory.
Flight four was a challenge for the Gilbert Tigers, as they were able to narrowly grasp sets one and two by the same score of 21-19, taking the win over Elli Meinke and Melanie Merrill.
It was 4-0 heading into the fifth and final flight, which was still played as the pairs also are preparing for their separate State Championship.
Unfortunately for the Nighthawks, the momentum was behind the Tigers and with nothing to lose, they roared their way to a victory. Taking both sets one and two with ease, Gilbert was able to sweep Ironwood Ridge to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
“We just weren’t in attack mode,” Lang said.
While losing in the playoffs is always tough, the culmination of this season is incredibly bittersweet for Lang. His daughter, Isabella, is a graduating senior on the team who has accepted a full academic scholarship to Hawaii.
“My father-daughter time is over,” Lang said. “She’s accepted an academic scholarship for Hawaii. It’s bittersweet.”
Comparing the end of the season to a bad break up, Lang says it’s tough when the season ends because when it’s over, it’s over and he really enjoys the time he gets to spend coaching them. Every group is unique, but Lang says this group carries the highest level of character out of all the individuals he’s ever worked with.
“In my years at Ironwood Ridge, this is probably one of the highest character classes we’ve had,” Lang said. “They might not have had the results we wanted, but their level of commitment, their character, their integrity, is by far one of the best classes.”
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 @LittWithBritt