The 2019 Matador Volleyball team relied on a sophomore core to reach the Region I Final for the second straight year while overcoming a rash of injuries during a daunting schedule.
Sophomore returners Melissa Garciglia Banuelos and Jovanna Papaz formed a reliable duo on the outside while Middle Blocker Lauolive Tonga exceeded the reliable and routinely provided a dynamic element to the offense.
Garciglia Banuelos put together a historic season from the service line while setting the school record for aces with 64 on her way to NJCAA All-American Honors as well as All-ACCAC and All-Region I Recognition.
Garcilgia Banuelos was joined on the All-ACCAC lineup by Tonga, who provided a litany of highlights throughout the year, and transfer Delaney St. Pierre who stabilized the rotation with her ability to set and play swing from the opposite side.
After starting the season 0-4 in New Mexico without Tonga, Arizona Western picked up the first win of season in Lauolive’s return by sweeping #9 Laramie County in Prescott at the Dalton Overstreet Invitational. The Matadors clean offense stayed relying on Papaz and Tonga, the pair combined for 18 errorless kills for the win.
The Lady Mats came home at 2-6 after eight road games to kick-off the season, the Lady Matadors opened up with two resounding sweeps of West Coast Baptist and SAGU American Indian College.
Setter Delaney St. Pierre’s long service run to start Friday’s match sparked the Matadors before the settled in during Saturday’s finale.
The new offensive liveliness carried back onto the road and the Matadors went to Thatcher High School to open up conference play with a five-set thriller over Eastern Arizona.
After an ice cold loss in set one of 25-12 to the Gila Monsters, theLady Mats responded by pulling out wins in sets two and three 25-20 and 25-23.
Eastern was able to force a fifth set with a narrow 25-23 margin in the fourth.
The Matadors earned the early lead in the deciding set and held a 13-11 lead before an Eastern timeout. Tonga's huge block setup the set point leading to the Mats closing out the match.
Tonga led the way for AWC with 16 errorless kills and three blocks. Melissa Garciglia Banuelos added 13 kills and Jovana Papaz added 10 in the win.
Another daunting tournament filled with ranked opponents ended as a .500 road trip to Nevada pitted the Matadors against four more teams in the NJCAA’s top 20. One highlight of the trip was Garciglia Banuelos’ performance on the road and her 114 kills netted ACCAC Player of the Week recognition.
That was the last of non-conference, however, and AWC picked up a four-set victory in Tucson over Pima while finding their footing in the ACCAC.
Arizona Western looked in prime shape with a sweep of Chandler-Gilbert at the House as Garciglia Banuelos left an imprint on the match with an incredible service game tallying nine total aces on the night, giving her 41 aces at that point on the season.
Garciglia Banuelos would hit 50 mark in aces after she added nine more aces in a route of Eastern Arizona a week later at The House. Her teammates added ten more aces and the Matadors solidified their hold on a playoff spot ahead of the Gila Monsters.
Adversity would hit the Lady Matadors again during the toughest portion of the schedule as they dropped three in a row beginning with a DI match against Yavapai. They also fell to the top two Division II schools in the conference, losing in straight sets to eventual National Champion Scottsdale and falling in four to Glendale.
The Lady Matadors got back on track with road wins at South Mountain and Phoenix College setting up a massive weekend home series against Yavapai at the House with major DI playoff implications.
Needing to win both matches, the Lady Matadors came out with excellent energy against the RoughRiders in the opener Friday night.
Tonga’s massive performance pushed AWC to a sweep of Yavapai and clinched a playoff spot while also earning her recognition as ACCAC Player of the Week.
As a result, Saturday’s rubber match would decide who owned the tie-breaker should the teams both win out during the regular season.
After dropping the first set, AWC had to dig deep and it was the sophomores again leading the charge. Garciglia Banuelos and Papaz delivered key moments while St. Pierre came up with a pair of impressive blocks and the Mats took the match in four sets.
But injuries ravished the roster again and losses to Mesa and Eastern Arizona to close out the season forced another trip to Prescott, despite earning the tiebreaker, as the RoughRiders wont the Division outright.
The season came to a close in the Region I Finals as Yavapai’s win knocked out AWC.
Still, the Lady Matadors reached the Region I Final for the second consecutive year and third time in the last four seasons extending the legacy as one of the perennial powers in the ACCAC.