Shadow Ridge isn't your typical defending Class 4A state boys volleyball champion.
Rather than depending on standout hitters or a massive triple-block, the Mustangs are a small team that plays fierce defense.
But it works.
Shadow Ridge (15-6) has used its solid back-row defense and passing game to fuel its rise to a spot in the Class 4A state semifinals, after graduating all but one player from the 2010 state championship team.
The Mustangs will face Coronado (18-3) in a state semifinal today at 7 p.m. at Las Vegas High. Silverado (18-3) takes on Bonanza (21-0) at 5 p.m.
"We're the underdog this year; what can I say?" said outside hitter Justin Kent, who played libero on last year's squad. "We're a small team, but we're quick, we're fast, and we've got ourselves going right now."
The heart of Shadow Ridge has been the back three, led by libero Cody Tesoro, who averages 6.0 digs per set, and Kent, who posts 3.8 digs per set in his more comfortable defensive assignment. Despite regularly giving up several inches in size, the Mustangs have posted wins over Northwest League powers Palo Verde and Centennial, and forced a fifth set against undefeated Bonanza in the Sunset finals.
"My team is a smaller, younger, inexperienced team," Shadow Ridge coach Christian Augustin said. "We'll have to plug away points. We may have to go into long rallies and do all those small things to fight for points. My guys understand that. And they understand they're going to give up points, and maybe in bunches. But they understand that's how the game is.
"They've bought in, and they believe in themselves."
The Mustangs' run through the postseason has been helped by a surge from Brandon Fisher, who averages 2.9 kills per set. The junior outside hitter, who played sparingly last year, said the team's chemistry has been crucial to its recent run.
"We've just been working on growing together and working together as a new team," said Fisher, who has 554 kills and 108 digs on the year. "It's taken us awhile to get a feel for what we need to do and where we need to be.
"But coming into the playoffs, we just had the mindset that we were here to learn, to play, to try our best and have fun. We're rolling with that."
The Mustangs have two state championships but are settling in to the new role as underdog -- and enjoying every minute of it.
"Our coach has been yelling at us to have determination and will," Kent said. "You have to have the love for the sport. And I just felt like we all gave it our best effort. Not five out of six, but all six guys on the court have been giving all they ask. It's amazing for us to pull through."
Contact reporter Sean Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430.