Gilbert volleyball coach Jackie Shealy didn't have to rally the troops before the start of the Class 2A playoffs Monday night against Eau Claire.
With eight players returning from a state runner-up finish to Bishop England last year, the Indians has used that loss as motivation to return to the championship match - and win it.
They took a solid first step with a 3-0 (25-13, 25-6, 25-12) victory against the Shamrocks to advance to host a second-round contest Wednesday night against the winner of the Woodruff-Walhalla match.
"Our girls are well-rounded, and they really, really want to make it back to state," Shealy said. "That was the only match that we lost (last year), and to lose 3-0, it stung pretty bad. But they have taken that loss and used it as motivation all spring and (during the offseason) to make it back."
The only blemish on the Indians' 21-1 record is a loss to Class 4A power Spring Valley in the championship match of a tournament.
Shealy insisted her team isn't looking ahead, but she knows the pain from losing in the final last year remains fresh. Add in the fact that there are six seniors this season, and their is urgency to make the most of the opportunity.
"They know the disappointment," Shealy said. "Another motivating factor is they heard people say it was a big difference from number one and number two, and they didn't like that comment.
"They've really pushed to close that gap, but they also know it is a long road to get back there. It was a good start against Eau Claire."
One area in which the Indians dominated against the Shamrocks was on service. During one stretch covering the second and third games, Gilbert scored 29 of 30 points. Gabby Juarez, Katie Ballington and Sarah Eargle served during that time, with Eargle opening the decisive game by winning 11 consecutive points.
"One thing we have been consistent with and in control with is our serve," Shealy said. "Sarah Eargle starts it out for us, and she is dominating with a top-spin serve, and our other girls work hard to keep pace."
Eargle finished with 12 aces and five kills. Victoria Burkett and Whitney Strother led the way with eight kills apiece, and Courtney Frye added 23 assists.
Eau Claire (9-9) came into the match with only nine players, two of which were pulled from the junior varsity, and lost one of those. Bridgette Jones, one of the Shamrocks' leading passers, left in the first set with a leg injury and did not return.
Eau Claire coach Demetris Murray knew it would take a great effort regardless to knock off Gilbert.
"I knew Gilbert was very strong, and I knew it was going to take a pretty effort to win this one," she said.