Three years ago, Estrella Foothills High School started a boys volleyball team that never opened its inaugural season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flash forward to three years later and the Wolves are poised to make a run in the playoffs that could end in a state championship. Coach Michael Matteson has turned a new program into a serious contender.
The Wolves finished the regular season 31-4 and are propelled by senior Ryan Bugs, who leads the team with 331 kills, senior Brenden Matteson (793 assists) and junior libero Jace Carroll (246 digs, 543 receptions). Round 1 of the 4A state playoffs features a tough field, including No. 1 Northwest Christian and No. 2 Deer Valley.
The Wolves program has continually improved each of its first three seasons to reach this point. Along with an increasingly better record, they have also advanced further each year in the playoffs.
“First of all, the competitive level has jumped higher every year. I mean we have had success since we started, but each year has just gotten better and better,” Michael said. “It has been so exciting to see them hold on to that and make themselves better and really strive for that competitive edge. It has been amazing to see them improve so much over the past four years.”
The team’s early success can be attributed to the play of the first group of seniors to go through the program. Bugs and Brenden are part of that core group that has helped the team grow closer and develop chemistry the past three seasons.
“We have played with each other for four years, and each year we have just gotten more comfortable with each other and playing better with each other,” Brenden said. “And slowly we have added more people to that group, almost half of our team played for the same club volleyball team in the fall, and we have just been getting more experience with each other and it has made us much better.”
Now the Wolves aim to cement a legacy as one of the best teams in Arizona.
“I want these few years to have a strong base (for) the legacy,” junior libero Jace Carroll said. “And as the program grows and continues to rise up the state rankings, I want to leave a legacy that this is a family and that we are here to win.”
This legacy, however, is about more than winning. For Michael and his team, it is about building a culture that will continue to inspire future generations to play boys volleyball at all levels.
“The good culture of a winning culture and a positive culture,” Michael said when talking about the team’s identity and culture that he wants his players to exhibit.
“Just one that shows how they were great models for the younger teams and give those younger teams something to strive for to be that competitive team, that positive team, that is encouraging and cheers for everyone. That is the biggest thing, to pass on that passion for the sport and be that positive light for the whole community here.”
Despite the success this team has experienced the last few seasons, the fact that there is even a team at Estrella Foothills is special to those involved. And it means more than just having the opportunity to play a sport.
For some players, this game has been a way of life.
“I didn’t really have anything to do before this, but once I heard we were getting a team I was excited to finally play competitively,” Bugs said. “And I know for some other people here that we played in middle school that just being able to get that chance to play at another level just means a lot more.”
Brenden saw how the sport can be life altering.
“I am so happy,” he said. “One of my closest friends used to play soccer, but we got him to play volleyball and it saved his life. He was on a downward spiral, and he came to play volleyball and it changed his entire life around. He is an assistant coach for a 14U team right now and he loves it. Volleyball right now has been his passion and has kept him going.
“It is amazing to see that a sport like that can turn somebody around.”
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