After several consecutive Final Four appearances from 2008 to 2011, the number two ranked Tuba City Lady Warriors finally celebrated a long sought state championship victory November 4 at the 2012 Arizona Division III State Volleyball tournament held at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley Arizona.
When the Lady Warriors team scored their final point against the number 9 ranked Safford Lady Bulldogs team to win at the end of a winning set of 25-18, 26-24, 25-21, they collapsed into a giant huddle of cheers, tears and exclamations of happiness.
According to Tuba City senior outside hitter Shiniya Henry, credited with scoring the last points to secure the victory, getting to the championship game was a great feeling and a true accomplishment against their opponents the Safford Lady Bulldogs.
“We weren't going to let down just because we had lost to them in the beginning of the season,” said Henry. “Once we stepped onto that court, we were going to go after everything and go after our goal of getting that title. That has been our main goal every single year.”
Henry also said the team was also getting tired of getting to the Final Four for the past couple of years without taking home the championship trophy.
“That made us hungry for the title even more and we really wanted to get past that level. We all had been focused ever since day one of practice, pushing and encouraging each other to work and to better ourselves. And guess what, in the end, all our hard work paid off and we got what we wanted, a state championship,” she said.
Harlan Barlow, the Tuba City Lady Warrior’s head coach says winning the state championship was a long time coming.
“It was the greatest feeling ever, because our hard work, our final four appearances the past two years, finally paid off, we didn’t want to come home as final four contestants or state-runner up. When we won, I didn't know what to do, I could've did back flips but I'm sure I jumped higher than I ever have when we won. I can finally say I've coached a state championship team and bringing home Tuba City's first ever state volleyball championship.”
Barlow credited the win to smart servers and a fast offense but added the team’s tough defense won the championship. He also said the bench played a major role by keeping the momentum and cheering for the players.
He also noted a few players that added to the Tuba City Team effort. “Shiniya Henry made the last 2 kills of the game, Tiona Huskie was serving. Kristen Becenti had some key kills during the game. “Just to add, Kristen was just named our “Division III Section I- Player of the Year," said Barlow.
Becenti, an outside hitter, also added her thoughts about the exciting win and being selected as player of the year. “It felt great to finally get what our team has been working for, for so long. It's one of the best feelings. All the hard work and sacrifices was worth the whole championship experience,” she said.
“Being the player of the year, I'm honored. It took a lot of hard work, and I'm extremely happy with the result. But I could not have done it without my team. They are amazing. I am so thankful for my teammates and coach. Without them, I would be nothing,” said Becenti.
When Henry sored the last point to win the championship, she says it was a moment she will never forget.
“Scoring the last point? Wow, once I saw 24 on the score board I knew one of us had to put that ball down. And as we got the ball back I saw the ball being set to me, and I thought to myself, ‘Okay, one more point. Hit the ball as hard as you can and just put that ball down!’ And right before my eyes, it went through the block and I couldn't help but just fall to the floor with the rest of my teammates. It was the greatest day of my life that words can't describe. That's something I will always remember! I don't know how many times I will watch the video of the end of the game… it's incredible,” she said.
“We made a change and made history for our school and our community by bringing home the state title,” said Henry. “That's something great that we can all remember for the rest of our lives. For me it still feels like a dream, I still can't believe it.”