Sunrise Mountain is the name of the school — and an apt description of what opposing volleyball teams are looking at when they try an attack.
The Mustangs boast an unusually tall roster, particularly for a 4A school. Eight of the 13 varsity players are 6 feet or above.
Senior middle blockers Elizabeth Clemit (6-2) and Haley Gilmour (6-3) are the most imposing peaks in the middle of the range. Gilmour leads a team averaging 16 blocks per match with 88 stuffs, while Clemit is second with 59.
“They mean quite a bit to the team. Our other front row players are right at 6 foot. Our luxury as a team is that we’re very tall. We create lots of problems for teams because there’s eight go-to girls,” Sunrise Mountain coach Bob Levardo said.
The Mustangs are also going big in the win column with a 13-2 record. Fellow seniors Amanda Martin, Zion Hill and Lauren Symington also play key roles in this break out season.
Gilmour got in a game or two as a freshman but her Mustangs varsity career basically dovetails with Levardo’s coaching tenure.
She was a regular as a sophomore on a senior-dominated Mustangs team in 2014. That squad finished 26-7 but suffered a bitter loss to rival Liberty in the opening round of the Division II playoffs.
“The first year they were here, they put it together. They believed in what we were trying to instill in them,” Coach Levardo said. “We talk about staying together as a team. And we believe in being a strong family.”
Clemit was a reserve on the Cactus varsity team that made the 2014 Division III state final. Before her junior year she transferred to Sunrise Mountain.
Neither Clemit nor Gilmour was the top blocker on the 2015 Mustangs. That was Hannah Combs, who now plays at New Mexico State.
All three reached double digits in blocks during an 18-11 season. Clemit said having multiple middles takes pressure off each player, since many of their opponents rely heavily on one blocker.
“It wasn’t about being a middle or right side or outside hitter. It was about being a volleyball player. I wanted to do what was best for my team. It’s about the greater collective,” Gilmour said.
This season, the rest of the team has improved around the middles. Sophomore Madison Harris is used to playing the middle on other teams and will inherit the mantle next year. She is an opposite hitter this year.
Symington and sophomore Jocelyn Teichman provide Sunrise Mountain with the outside firepower it lacked last year. In fact, this team seems to have two of everything.
Sophomore libero Kaylee Ford and Martin lead the defense. Sophomore Payton Harmann and freshman Shauna Rath divvy up the setting.
“We have a young team with a lot of sophomores. But they’re very mature and we talk a lot at practice and games about focusing on the next drill we’re going to do or the next set we’re going to play,” Clemit said.
Sophomore Kandall Boulay is another newcomer playing a major role. But another secret to this season’s improvement is how much better the returning varsity players interact on and off the court.
“This season we’re getting to know more about each other and know what it takes to motivate each other,” Clemit said.
Clemit said she hope commit to play in college after the club season. She is thinking about studying kinesiology. Gilmour said she has taken some visits, but no schools have stood out. She plans to study biomedical or mechanical engineering.
Before those decisions are made, the middle blockers should have some major high school matches left. Three-game sweeps of Cactus and Greenway stamped the Mustangs as one of the top 4A title contenders.
Sunrise Mountain is ranked No. 4 in the conference, one behind Prescott, the only team to beat the Mustangs in the regular season. Flagstaff and Cave Creek Cactus Shadows hold the top two spots.
For this team, though, there is no talk about top contenders and state titles. Sunrise Mountain players want to secure their first playoff victory and go from there.
“It is really exciting for the seniors. This is our last shot, and the underclassmen seem really understanding. We want it for each other,” Gilmour said. “We’re trying to break our first round curse and then go from there.”