Cazenovia Whether in winter or in fall, the Westhill girls volleyball program always lingered in the long shadows of more successful neighbors like Marcellus, Solvay and Skaneateles.
But on a joyful Monday night at Cazenovia High School's Buckley Gym, the Warriors emerged from those shadows for good, beating Phoenix in four sets for its first-ever Section III Class B championship.
For much of the regular season, Westhill had run over its opposition, starting 14-1. But back-to-back losses to Marcellus and Solvay in the last week of the regular season threatened to derail the Warriors.
According to Westhill head coach Carrie Butler, she told her team, after those two losses, to put them aside and focus on the more important sectional tournament. That notion worked, as the Warriors, with the no. 2 seed, swept Jamesville-DeWitt and Skaneateles to reach the championship match.
And waiting for them was Phoenix, the no. 4 seed, who had made a dramatic run to get this far, surviving a five-set quarterfinal with no. 5 seed Homer and then stunning top seed Solvay in another five-setter.
Of course, Westhill didn't need any reminder of how tough Phoenix could be, having beaten the Firebirds in yet another five-set match back on Sept. 19, so it only figured that the opening set of the sectional final would also prove close.
All through that set, the two sides exchanged point runs, ending up in 10 different ties. Finally, at 22-22, Westhill won back the serve, and earned the final three points to claim a 25-22 victory.
They were tied again, 9-9, in the second set when a close line call appeared to rattle Westhill - and spark Phoenix, who promptly went on a 10-1 run and never got caught, winning the set 25-19 to even the match.
After breaking out to an 8-1 lead in the third set, Westhill watched the Firebirds pulled within one, 11-10, before rattling off five straight points to regain control. It needed that cushion late in the set as Phoenix got within one, 23-22, before the Warriors got the serve back and pulled out another 25-22 decision.