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REGION VOLLEYBALL: Top-seeded Wildcats fend off complacency

Despite an unbeaten Northeast League record, Las Vegas outside hitter Garrett Jones knows the Wildcats can’t overlook any of the other seven teams in the Sunrise Region boys volleyball tournament.

The senior knows doing so could be a fatal flaw in his final season.

“Don’t underestimate anyone. Always be ready for anything, any team, no matter who it is,” said Jones, whose team lost only one set in league play. “They want it just as bad as we do, so always be ready for a fight or whatever else there is.”

The top-seeded Wildcats (17-1, 14-0 Northeast) could be tested right out of the gate Tuesday by Southeast No. 4 seed Foothill at 5:20 p.m. in the first round at Green Valley. The tournament continues Thursday and Friday at Legacy.

The Falcons (11-7, 7-7 Southeast) are making their first postseason appearance since 2004.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, rolled to an eighth straight league title in the final year of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association’s current league structure. Las Vegas didn’t lose a match to an in-state opponent until a 3-2 loss to Palo Verde on Friday.

The Wildcats’ depth was key to this season’s success.

“We don’t just have one hitter, but we have a lot of hitters all the time,” said Jones, Las Vegas’ go-to offensive weapon who averages 4.1 kills per set. “There’s always someone to watch out for. As the team comes together, it helps us come together as friends. It takes effort to be the way we are; it’s not just one person. It takes all of us.”

After losing a class of seven seniors a year ago, much of the leadership onus fell to Jones. He’s been up to the task, Las Vegas coach Sue Thurman said.

“Garrett has matured a lot as a player over the last year, in his role as a leader, both by his actions on the court and motivating his teammates to work hard,” Thurman added. “He realizes that it’s a team sport.

“They work together. It definitely is a team effort, and Garrett’s an outstanding leader with a heavy arm who won’t hang his head or give up. He’ll make sure his team plays well.”

Junior setter Evany Diaz has also steadied the Wildcats’ varied offense, dishing out 762 assists to fuel a line of hitters. Jones has 372 kills and 273 digs, and Jace Turner adds 226 kills and 92 blocks. Levi Mackelprang has stepped up offensively from his role on last year’s defensive back line to notch 178 kills.

“You don’t have to be the biggest guy or hardest-hitting guy to make an impact on your team,” Thurman said of Mackelprang. “He’s a senior, and they have goals that they want to achieve together.

They know everyone has a role to achieve that goal, and they all work hard to step up into that role and to strive for perfection.”

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