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Crusaders open the Class 6A state tournament with a strong showing over Sandy

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior middle blocker Alyssa Hughes hammers a kill against Sandy in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

One of the coolest atmospheres in the state is the first day of competition at the Class 6A volleyball state tournament.

Each of the eight teams comes into Liberty High School on a high, on the heels of a second-round triumph with big dreams in mind. The crowds of students are all too happy to skip afternoon classes to support their classmates and friends and come out in flocks. The stands are packed with students and families. With two matches going on at the same time, it's a festive, rather raucous environment.

Weak teams can melt in the heat. But the ones that rise up and feed off of the crowds can use the positive juju to propel itself above and beyond its playing limits.

Jesuit thirsted for the big stage and the amped ambiance. The result was a quarterfinal proclamation, sweeping Sandy 25-20, 25-18, 25-21 on Nov. 2.

"It ignites a different kind of fire than usual," Jesuit senior Erin Foley said. "For me, I'll be back in serve-receive and I'll feel my arms trembling. It's in your subconscious. The adrenaline takes over and you just kind of forget about everything else. It amplifies our play, it amplifies our will."

In the second set, Jesuit's defense at the net with Alyssa Hughes and Lizzie Stegemoller was ox-strong, perfectly timing their blocks and either getting their hands and fingers on the volleyball or altering Sandy's spike attempts into less than desirable kills. Rose Booth was awesome. The net defense translated into a dig, set and instant offense for Booth who got a plyometric workout in during the second set, jumping high for four straight kills. Sandy stayed within striking distance at 21-20 in the second set before Hughes housed a kill from the center of the court. And Booth ended the 25-21 with a roundabout blast.

In the third set, Hughes hovered left, extended her hands high and blocked a ball with both arms extended. The future Gonzaga Bulldog bagged an ace as well giving the Crusaders a comfortable 16-9 third lead.

Foley said the energy can turn frantic, but believed Jesuit did a good job of staying 'up'. When the Crusaders got in a rut, they were able to dig themselves out by calming one another down and taking control of the gym. It wasn't the best the Crusaders have all played all year. There were times when two people would go after the same ball without communication or the offense was a little slower.

Jesuit's best would come Saturday in the state final. But it was a fitting first showing for a team that went two-and-out at the tourney a year ago.

"Our big theme going into this weekend was 'Be Us,'" Foley said. "We know who we are and how we can play. We just want to focus and play for each other. That's our big goal. This our last time playing together for the seniors. We're going to leave all out on the court. We're going to crank it and hope for the best."

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