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Mavericks sweep Sprague and Sherwood, ready for first 6A tournament showing

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Mountainside volleyball team swept Sprague and Sherwood to reach the Class 6A quarterfinals.

The second-round monkey is off Mountainside's back.

Now let's see if this uber-talented Maverick volleyball team is ready to take home a Class 6A crown.

A year after giving up a two-set lead to Sheldon in the second round of the playoffs, Mountainside made amends, sweeping Sherwood 25-12, 25-15, 25-14 on Nov. 2 to advance to the elite eight. The Mavericks will play Canby in the 6A quarterfinals at 10 a.m. at Liberty High School on Friday.

"We want to make it to the finals, of course, but we have to take one at a time," Mountainside senior Izzi Szulczewski said. "Last year was heartbreaking. There was so much intensity around that season. Everybody expected us to be fine and that almost got in our heads. We poured our hearts into that game and it didn't turn out the way we wanted to. We've used that Sheldon loss as such a big motivation for this year, so (beating Sherwood) was a big confidence boost for us going into the state tournament."

Mountainside (22-6 overall, 10-2 in Metro) paid its dues a season ago, succumbing to youth and inexperience in high-pressure situations against the Irish. But Mountainside's strides this fall have been substantial. Wins over Jesuit and Sunset showed resolve, toughness and elite on-the-court ability. Those were landmark victories, as was finishing second in the Metro League. When it comes to rotations and upper crest athletes, Mountainside will be among the top of the line at Liberty High. If Szulczewski isn't the Metro Player of the Year, then something went awry with the voting process. She's explosive and powerful at the net and precise with her passes. Gabby Auer, Mackenzie Leith and Kristi Mazzotta are high rise hitters who can go on scoring runs of their own. Grace Clark locks down on defense and Emily Jaramillo can jump-start the offense with her passing. It's a group that's grown through the fire and had to earn its stripes rather than find instant gratification in its inaugural season. The process to get to state was painful in terms of the Sheldon loss. But the payoff could be royal as the third-ranked Mavericks set foot on the state stage. The field is wide open. Jesuit is good, but not as machine-like as last year. Central Catholic is always loaded, but far from unbeatable. This will be Mountainside's first time under the tournament spotlight, so the early going could be a bit rickety. Yet, the Mavericks have the talent to take it all.

"We know we have a tough road ahead," Szulczewski said. "But we're even more motivated than we were yesterday or the day before. We're not looking too far ahead to the future. We're just trying to take it one point at a time."

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