Perry's girls volleyball team has battled all season to get to where it is in the Division I power rankings. The Lady Pumas were at No. 10 on Tuesday night and its opponent, Highland, was No. 12.
Perry at least maintained its position, venturing to Highland where they dealt the hosts a four-set defeat, 25-22, 25-16, 22-25, 25-17.
Other than a late glitch in the third set, it was a solid night for Perry and a benchmark victory for the program. The win improved Perry to 23-12 overall, 9-4 in power-ranking matches. The 9-4 mark guarantees it a winning season (power-ranking wise).
"This is the first time the school has had a winning season, it's guaranteed now," first-year Perry and longtime East Valley coach Fred Mann said. "I was thrilled with our effort tonight. It's a very big win. But we still have tough matches ahead."
The previous best power-ranking record for Perry was 4-13 in both 2010 and 2012. Perry played like a top-10 team Tuesday, clicking in all facets and causing Highland problems particularly on serves.
"They killed us serving," Highland assistant coach Darrin Ashment said. "We usually are pretty good serve-receive. Not tonight."
Perry served up 15 aces, six each from outside hitters Taylor Knoll and Talise Babbitt. Knoll led a trio of Perry players with double figures in kills. She finished with 15. Babbitt added 12 and Bobbi Sczruba chipped in 10. On defense, Perry was led by Mahea Rubin with 13 digs.
Perry never trailed in the opening set, but saw Highland (21-14, 8-6 prm) battle back from a 20-14 deficit to tie at 20 and 21. Knoll rescued Perry with two late kills and Kahri Harrion finished the set with a great serve. Perry pulled away late in the second set, with Knoll serving the final four points, including two aces and a kill.
Highland began to show some life in the third set. The Lady Hawks reeled off five straight points (four off the serve of Kanani Hiapo. The set remained close, but Perry appeared on the verge of a sweep with a 22-18 lead after a Maddie LeBlanc kill. Perry struggled with hitting and passing the rest of the match as Highland ran off a seven straight points to force a fourth set.
Highland pulled out to an 8-3 lead in the fourth set, but serving runs from Knoll and Babbitt haunted Highland again as the 8-3 deficit turned to a 20-11 Perry lead.
"I was worried at that point because they were playing very well," Mann said. "They scrap and battle. The next set we got a couple of serving runs that got us going again."
Highland, which went 4-2 last weekend in the Southern California Invitational in El Cajon, Calif., brought what Ashment thought would be momentum to the match. He saw only brief moments Tuesday of how the team played in California.
"We took the best team (San Diego Parker High) in the tournament to three sets," Ashment said. "Noone else had come close to them before that. We didn't play anything like that tonight."
Highland got a match-high 16 kills from Ally Eylers, 12 kills from Daeleigh Castile and nine kills from Tristyn Moser. Kylee Thompson had 18 assists and three aces.