CASA GRANDE — Although Casa Grande Union moved up to the 5A Conference this year, the Cougars opened their season this week against a familiar foe in 4A Tucson Salpointe Catholic.
The past two seasons when both teams were in the 4A Kino region, the Lancers came out on top every single time.
While the Cougars fell to the Lancers again this week by a score of 3-0 (25-17, 25-13, 25-22) CG Union coach Matt Reeves’ initial impression of his team changed.
“I kind of went into the season thinking that it was going to be a rebuild year,” he said. “I mean right now, I’ve got four seniors and three of them are starters but the way we played that first match against Salpointe, I think that changed my mind. The juniors I have — and my libero’s a sophomore — they played the best we’ve ever played against Salpointe, which is a top-tier school. They played really well, and I think now I’m not looking at it that way anymore. I think we’ve really got a chance to really do something this season.”
The Cougars nearly took the third set against Salpointe Catholic, which Reeves said tied the best score for his program against the Lancers.
“We started to disrupt their main hitter, and we were getting good blocks,” he said. “We were playing great defense against them and I think the girls realized, ‘OK, we can compete with this team.’ I didn’t do a lot of coaching that game, I just let them play and they kind of took control and came together really well as a group.”
CG Union returns its two top outside hitters in Faith Adams and Cynae Cureton. Another returning varsity player is Kalyssa Fox, who led the team in assists and aces served.
Reeves really likes what he has seen from his team defensively through their first two matches against Salpointe Catholic and Apache Junction. CG Union beat Apache Junction 3-0 (25-19, 25-17, 25-23).
“We’ve had a lot of touches at the net, a lot of blocks or at least touches to slow the ball down on big hitters, and we’ve played really great defense,” he said. “I think that’s going to be our focus this year is if we can keep the ball in play, eventually the other team is going to make a mistake.”
This year the Cougars are in the 5A Sonoran region which features three Tucson schools in Catalina Foothills, Flowing Wells and Marana Mountain View. The other two schools in the region are Marana and Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge.
Reeves’ biggest concern with those schools is that because of COVID-19, Pima County has delayed the start date for athletics.
“They’re doing some weird things with their sports right now,” he said. “They were gonna play and then they weren’t, and we had lost all of our region games, now they’re back and we’re playing again, so I’m not sure.”
Reeves said the late start to the season for CG Union’s regional competition can be an advantage for his team, but it can also have a negative impact.
The positive is that by the time the Cougars roll into regional play, they’ll have already played at least seven matches, whereas the rest of the region will barely be starting the season.
The downside is there will be weeks where CG Union has more than two matches in one week.
“We’re going to have a lot of weeks in October where we play three games in a week which is a lot of games in one week,” Reeves said. “It’s keeping the mental focus and staying physically fit and being ready to play that many games in a week.”
Through two matches the Cougars have shown a lot of promise to turn things around for a program that has struggled the past couple of seasons and Reeves said his team can make some noise in its new region this year.
“I think we’ve got a chance to win a lot of games,” he said. “I think we kind of have a leg up on our region right now, and with what I’ve seen in our first two games, I would like to win our region and if not be one of the top teams in the region and really compete this year. The girls have adapted well to the change in schedule, and they’re coming together as a team. Hopefully they can keep this rolling all season.”