Saguaro beach volleyball rides stellar season into promising playoff run

Saguaro’s transition under a new coach has them poised for a deep state title run in beach volleyball after a program-best 10-2 regular season. (Photo courtesy of Saguaro High School)

SCOTTSDALE – One year ago, Saguaro High School’s beach volleyball team broke the mold for the program with their first playoff appearance, which included a first-round upset over No. 5-seed Valley Christian before losing a 3-2 heartbreaker in the quarterfinals to Northwest Christian. With this year’s playoffs slated to begin Tuesday afternoon, the Sabercats are in prime position for a title run just one season after their first playoff berth.

Saguaro enters the 2024 AIA Beach Volleyball Division II State Team Championship playoffs as the No. 6 seed behind a program-best 10-2 regular season and will face No. 11 AZ College Prep (10-3) in the first round.

Even though the Sabercats ended last season on a high note, they entered this season with multiple question marks. The first question was how would the team perform under new coach David Mietzner, who replaced Tim Church in the offseason. Mietzner came in with plenty of indoor volleyball coaching experience, but he knew beach volleyball is not the same playing field. Luckily for him, he happened to be friends with the most decorated high school beach volleyball coach in Arizona: Tim McHale. McHale has amassed eight championships during his current tenure at Xavier College Prep, so Mietzner knew if there was anyone to help him dip his toes into the beach volleyball coaching world, it would be McHale.

“When I was coaching indoor at Desert Mountain and Chaparral, Tim was the indoor coach at Xavier, and we established a great friendship over the years,” Mietzner said. “I asked him what do I need to expect as a coach, and he told me that the main thing is to be flexible with the girls’ schedules.

“During the beach season, the girls have their indoor club season, so they are going to miss some days when they are out of town. It is definitely the toughest part about coaching, but it was really helpful that he shared that with me, seeing how big he built up Xavier’s program over the years.”

The next big question would come on the sand as a void needed to be filled after the departure of three key seniors. Junior Bella Reyes solved that problem in an immense way. The Arizona State commit transferred to Saguaro after her sophomore year at Mesquite.

Reyes and her partner, senior Ava Cotton, have been the catalyst for Saguaro’s success. The duo is 12-0 in their matches and 23-1 throughout their sets, which ranks second in Division II. Their near-impeccable play has landed them as the No. 1 seed in the 2024 AIA Beach Volleyball Division II State Pairs Championship tournament, which kicks off April 29 after the team finals.

“Ava and I are best friends on and off the court, which naturally assists with our chemistry,” Reyes said. “We both are competitive, but we can still find a balance of competitiveness and grace towards each other, which is what I think is key to our chemistry.”

No matter how great a single pair is, you need five to do the job each match. Mietzner must manage pairs that are very diverse in age, ranging from freshmen to seniors. Nevertheless, each of them has done a stellar job this season.

The Sabercats pounced on opponents early, reaching eight consecutive wins before their first loss, including five shutouts. Their most prominent victory was a 3-2 thriller in the final match of the regular season versus a familiar foe in fourth-ranked Northwest Christian. Their only losses came against second-ranked Arcadia and eighth-ranked Fountain Hills. The good news is the Sabercats will have a chance to possibly avenge their two losses in the playoffs. Plus, there’s also the opportunity to double up on their revenge versus Northwest Christian.

“It is extremely helpful to play in such a competitive section,” Reyes said. “We understand how each of these teams play now and know their weaknesses even more before the game, which will hopefully give us an opportunity to beat them for the first time or again.”

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Then again, the playoffs are a whole new ball game compared to the regular season. The sense of urgency and level of intensity is at an all-time high. With the Sabercats finishing the regular season with their best record and playoff seeding in program history, there could be various emotions throughout the team. Success like this may bring a sense of overconfidence or a sense of nervousness. Either way, Mietzner and Reyes are poised to find the perfect balance to help the team lock in and make a run at Saguaro history.

“I never let their minds wander to two matches ahead,” Mietzner said. “I never want them to think a team is not that good or anything like that. I stifle that as fast as I possibly can because the next match is always the most important one.”

“We need to lock in as a team by being together and being hype,” Reyes added. “In order to transition to a playoff mindset, I feel that it’s important to increase the intensity and focus during training so we can start getting used to that level of play for the playoffs.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Brett Lapinski expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Lapinski interned at Varsity Sports Show, where he was a digital reporter/social media producer.