If the high school girls’ volleyball season ended today, the Agua Fria Owls (13-7) would be postseason-bound.
The Owls, currently rank 19th in the 5A conference and could soon embark on the 115-mile trek to Tucson, to compete against the 14-seed Marana Tigers in the play-in (elimination) round, at least where the Oct. 4, standings are concerned.
Agua Fria appeared in the play-in round last fall, but has yet to advanced beyond the win-or-go-home stage since 2015.
First-year head coach Kyle Brumbaugh is eager to flip that script.
“It’d be a great step forward,” Brumbaugh said. “But that was laid down by the foundations of coaches before me and the girls working hard. I’m just here to keep the ball rolling, keep the train rolling.”
Brumbaugh inherited a roster rich with veteran leadership. On a roster featuring a dozen players - 10 are upperclassmen. Its two captains, seniors Kasiah Johnson and Emily Bey, are instrumental in directing the Owls toward postseason. Of Agua Fria’s 392 total kills, its two-headed monster, Johnson and Bey, account for 45 percent of them.
Along with the vast upperclassmen presence, the Owls have a healthy blend of young starters, offering a peek into the next three, four years of the program.
Sophomore Alicia Cordova played in 38 of the team’s 40 sets with 52 kills. Her 24 total blocks are second on the team.
Freshman Ashlyn Blakely started every one of the Owls’ 20 matches. Her seamless transition to the varsity scene, sandwiched on the court between upperclassmen, intrigues the Agua Fria coaching staff.
“She gets better every game,” Brumbaugh said. “It’s fun to watch right now, but I’m hoping in four years, it’s going to be really fun to watch.
“If she’s getting better every game right now as a freshman, I’m really excited about her future.”
There was a slight hesitation to pencil Blakely into the starting rotation at the start of the season, Brumbaugh admits, due to her youth. But Blakely quickly won over the trust of her head coach.
“It’s tough. Freshmen have to really surprise you with their talent, skills, and emotional and maturity skills. She’s done that by far with everything, and more,” Brumbaugh said. Adding:
“She’s classy, professional and has great skill.”
The Owls’ quest for a second consecutive trip to the postseason didn’t begin as smoothly as hoped. They stumbled to a 4-4 record, with several of those losses decided by a few points.
Then they rattled off seven straight wins, reintroducing themselves to the 5A conference as legitimate playoff contenders.
Though Brumbaugh, an Agua Fria alumnus himself, is new to the Owls’ varsity volleyball program, he has coached elsewhere before. He acknowledges the team is bound to experience the ebb and flow of the regular season roller coaster ride.
Agua Fria is coming off its dreariest stretch of the season, a tough three-game spell, including perennial contender Verrado, along with last year’s state champion, Millennium. Aside from dropping those contests, it also fell victim to Barry Goldwater. The win over Agua Fria marked Goldwater’s first win this season.
Six days after the sour loss to Goldwater, the Owls traveled to Willow Canyon, where they were dangerously close to dropping their fourth straight game. A losing streak of that magnitude is calamitous at this juncture of the regular season.
So Brumbaugh huddled together with his core of seniors.
“We brought them together and said, ‘Hey, this is your team. You have done four years in the program. We want you to fight; give everything you have.’ And they did,” the coach said.
They exited the Willow Canyon gym with a thrilling 3-2 win, thanks to edging the Wildcats 26-24, 25-20 and 15-13 in the final three sets.
Along with the resiliency from his players, Brumbaugh also tipped his cap to assistant coach Jamie Mauritz, who’s served as the skipper’s right-hand man this season.“She’s just been phenomenal,” Brumbaugh said. “She was on the staff last year. I would not be able to do it without her. She’s the glue that holds this whole team together.”
On a two-game win-streak with six to play, the Owls have all but locked up a spot in the postseason. And in Brumbaugh’s rookie season, Agua Fria believes it’s turning the corner toward becoming a postseason threat.
“It’s hard to put us away. We find a way to be successful and I think people underestimate us right now. No one’s heard of Agua Fria volleyball for a long time.
“We play fast and we play tough. It’s fun to watch, I won’t lie. We have some really fun games.”