Tricia Melfy believes in her plan and her system.
When she was hired to run the girls volleyball program at newly-opened Campo Verde in 2009, the former Desert Ridge and Mesa Community College coach envisioned early results and a high standard.
“I could create for Campo Verde a foundation of success which would be something to strive for year after year after year,” she said. “I wanted to do it right from the get-go.”
As her fourth season winds down, it has come to fruition. The Coyotes enter the Division III state tournament on Friday as the top overall seed, with a 27-4 record and an undefeated mark in 18 power point matches.
But actually getting to this point? Well, that wasn’t so easy.
In Melfy’s first year, the school only had freshmen and sophomores and the talent wasn’t exactly overflowing.
“I sure didn’t go ‘Holy moly!” Melfy said. “In fact, I said, ‘Bless your hearts. You’ve got a lot of work to do.’ They sprayed balls all over the gym the first two years. It was quite an experience.”
Outside hitter Ally Dell’Amico, then a freshman, was a typical Campo Verde player.
She wanted to play for Seton Catholic in high school but figured she’d never see the court because she was too short. Instead, she joined her friends at this new school and hoped for the best.
The Coyotes went 6-14 in their first varsity season in 2010, albeit without any seniors.
“We weren’t really that good,” Dell’Amico said.
But the one thing the team had was work ethic. There was no ingrained culture at the school, which also meant no bad habits. Melfy pushed the team and started seeing results.
“They don’t have anything to compare it to, so what I do is it,” she said. “At times that might be scary, especially for some of the parents because I’m pretty intense, but it never scared the kids. They loved it. They fed off my passion, my feist. They know nothing else, really. Starting a program not just as an athlete but a coach, we came in and said, ‘All right, this is how you do it, and it’s going to work.’ It has, and they’ve believed it from Day One.”
Campo Verde went 24-11 in 2011 and made the playoffs as a No. 14 seed, but despite that marked improvement, the expectations for this year weren’t anything near what has been accomplished.
“We dreamed of winning a state championship and going undefeated, but I don’t think anyone ever expected (the opportunity) to come this soon,” Dell’Amico said. “Now it’s so real.”
Campo Verde got a jolt in its first match of the season. It faced off against four-time-defending champion Seton, and as Dell’Amico put it, the team was just trying to stay competitive.
Instead, the Coyotes won in three sets.
“We just played great volleyball, and it was seriously like, ‘Here we go,’” Melfy said. “The confidence, the belief, everything that we’d been saying really could happen. And here we are.”
Campo Verde started the year 6-0 and didn’t drop a game in that stretch. The Coyotes’ four losses have all come in tournament play against higher-division foes.
The most memorable victory came on Oct. 10 over Queen Creek. The Bulldogs fell behind two sets to none before rallying for the 3-2 victory.
It was streamed by the Arizona Interscholastic Association and the team viewed it afterward.
“It was really fun watching it online,” junior outside hitter Haley Christiansen said.
The added publicity is one of the spoils afforded elite teams, and Campo Verde hopes to stay in the spotlight for a few more days.
After the strong start, the team changed its goals and aimed for an undefeated power point run. Now the hope is four more victories, which would result in the first state title in the school’s brief history.
The junior class is talented and the junior varsity and freshman teams also have nice pieces, so Melfy’s plan for excellence seems to be in full motion.
But it’s the unassuming varsity players who put it in overdrive.
“Eighteen-and-oh puts us on the map, you’ve got to admit that, but a state championship would soldify us,” Melfy said. “Realistically, I know, we put a banner on that wall that says state champion? People will come. These older kids have set such a standard, such an expectation, that if these other kids follow that example we’re going to be OK.”