MESA — After finishing as the 5A runner-up in 2021, the Cienega Bobcats boys volleyball team has completed its revenge tour, capping things off with a championship sweep. Defeating the No. 4 Gilbert Tigers 3-0, the top-ranked Bobcats fought until the very end to pick up the victory.
Following the disappointing finish last year, this year’s victory tastes even more sweet.
“It’s surreal,” senior Derrick Vargas said. “Nobody else wanted it more than this team, and I wouldn’t want to do it with any other team. This year, we just had a feeling the whole year we knew we could do it, and we did. We executed, and that’s thanks to everyone doing their part.”
“It feels amazing,” junior Mason Tippett said. “I was just starting volleyball last year, but I still felt that loss. I can’t even explain how happy and excited I am right now.”
“Especially after last year,” added senior Taylor Allen, ”losing 3-0, and now winning 3-0, it just feels great.”
It was a thrilling afternoon for Cienega coach Heather Mott and her team. After fighting tooth and nail to make it back to the championship, the time had finally come for the Bobcats to redeem themselves.
Cienega started off set one by trailing early, but it didn’t stop them from dialing in on their overall goal. Fighting back and forth with Gilbert to claim the lead, Cienega was finally able to break open a 14-9 lead, scoring six consecutive points and forcing Gilbert to call a timeout.
While Gilbert attempted to rally back, Cienega’s lead was too much to overcome. Wrapping up set one, senior Jaden Bramhall was able to get the final block needed to take a 1-0 lead, with the Bobcats winning it 25-19.
Set two got off to a much different start, with the Bobcats storming off to an early lead right out of the gate. After Cienega took an 11-5 lead, Gilbert was forced to burn a timeout in an attempt to stop the momentum. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the timeout wasn’t enough, as Cienega was able to take a 21-10 lead.
Gilbert made another push towards the end of set two, forcing Cienega to call a timeout despite leading 23-16, as they slowly kept creeping up. From there, the Bobcats wasted little time putting the Tigers away and claiming a 2-0 lead, snagging set two 25-19.
“After we won the second set, we were pretty stoked,” Vargas said.
“We really just wanted to keep the pressure on them,” Tippett said. “Our coach said keep the pedal to the medal and don’t stop until you cross the finish line, and that’s what we tried to do the entire time.”
Going into set three, the energy inside the building was becoming more intense. While Cienega was only 25 points away from sweet redemption, the Tigers were 25 points away from keeping their dreams of an upset alive.
Cienega started off with an early lead, but GIlbert continued to keep climbing back into things, remaining right on the heels of the Bobcats. Gilbert continued to keep pushing the pace, tying things up at 16 as they attempted to rally in set three.
Feeling like it was the prime opportunity for a timeout, Mott gathered her team on the sidelines to try to get their mind right. Coming out of the timeout, Gilbert was able to take a hold of the lead, leaving Cienega playing catch up until things were once again tied up, this time at 23.
After sophomore Jake Shroder made a great play to keep things alive for Cienega, a lack of communication on the floor ultimately gave Gilbert a 24-23 lead in set three. From there, Cienega called a timeout in an attempt to reset.
“[Mott] basically said we’ve played so much volleyball this season and we’ve played enough, and so we should just end it right here in this set,” Tippett said.
“She just told us to stay calm and play our game,” Vargas said. “Our offense is pretty unstoppable when our serve receive is on point, so we just calmed down, saw the ball and eliminated it.”
The fight never stopped, though, as Cienega rallied to tie things at 24, then again at 25 before forcing Gilbert to call a timeout after taking a 27-26 lead.
Digging deep, Cienega was able to get the final point off a block from iVargas. In a 3-0 sweep, Cienega had completed its revenge, becoming the 2022 5A state champs.
After gathering on the floor and receiving the championship trophy, the team gathered near the net with Coach Mott and began a chant.
“Overrated,” echoed throughout the gym, mixed with claps, as the Bobcats celebrated their win.
Taking home the trophy, however, wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing senior leadership on the team helping it reach this point.
“Our leadership this season was amazing,” Tippett said. “I definitely wouldn’t have made it as far as I did from last year to this year without our seniors. The coaching, the tips, the experience they had that they were able to pass on to me, I really wouldn’t be where I am right now without them.”
The team also feels like a family, which they say has helped them with their chemistry on the court.
“When we came into this season, our coach was really focused on our team becoming a family,” Tippett said. “I 100 percent believe we are the tightest team in the state, no doubt.”
With the victory, Mott has moved into a league of her own, helping bring championships to both the boys and the girls volleyball programs. Solidifying her spot in history as one of Tucson’s top indoor volleyball coaches, this 2022 team says they wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else.
“We do everything together, so we will probably all go to someone’s house to celebrate together,” Vargas said. “Winning it all is just the cherry on top.”