Horizon’s volleyball state title win brings back memories

    Horizon High School is the new 5A-II state champion in girls
volleyball, taking down Desert Mountain High School in a dramatic
five-set comeback. It’s the first-ever volleyball crown for the
Scottsdale high school, which is a story in itself.
    But the win brings back memories of a Horizon win five years ago.  SportZine Magazine was
there then, covering the Carol Chase Memorial Tournament, hosted by
Sunrise Mountain High School. It was memorable, not because Horizon won
the tournament title in a field of two dozen teams, but because it was
a milestone for the coach.
    That final win at the Carol Chase
Tournament in September of 2004 was the 500th victory for Horizon
coach, Valorie McKenzie.  Yesterday, Coach McKenzie was on the sideline
once again, as she has been for the past 30 years or so.  But this time
the win meant even more, as she guided the No. 5 Huskies to an upset of
the No. 2 Wolves for the state title.
    And the Huskies did it with a young team, putting only three seniors on the floor – middle hitter Natalie Kintz (146 kills this seaon), setter Sarah McGaffin (51 aces), and libero Tori Thielen (372 digs).
    To add a little irony, it was reported in an article in The Arizona Republic
that McKenzie admitted she had considering retiring before the season
began, even submitting her resignation and then withdrawing it because
she couldn’t bear to leave her players.
    Horizon worked hard
throughout the state tournament, trying to win it all for the coach. 
The Huskies also came back from a deficit in every game of the
semi-finals to upset No. 1 Iron Ridge HS in another five-set match for
the right to meet Desert Mountain, which had defeated defending
champion Centennial HS.  The finals weren’t over until McGaffin put down the final kill in a thrilling 15-13 fifth set.
In 5A-I, Xavier Prep left little room for drama as it wrapped up its
third consecutive state title by beating Corona del Sol HS in a
three-set match that didn’t include one close game, 25-9, 25-12,
25-15.  The Gators were paced by senior setter Stephanie Preach (three kills and four aces) and a pair of sophomores, Katarina Schulz and Bianca Arellano, who each recorded 10 kills.  Caitlin Downs added another seven kills.

    Preach, the 5’9″ team captain, led the team this season in blocks
(88), aces (66), and assists (936).  Arellano topped the list in kills
with 280.
    The only drama in the state tournament was focused on
whether Xavier would sweep the fall sports, which it did by winning the
volleyball title.  The Gators will add that one to those in badminton,
cross country, golf, and swimming – a feat no team in 5A has been able
to do before!
    In 4A competition, it was Sunnyslope HS winning
the title in division I for its second consecutive, and Seton Catholic
in division II upsetting No. 1 Cactus HS in four sets.
    Lauren Foss, Madison Kingdon, and Jessica Durbin had key kills and Haley Lowrance pitched in several critical aces to spark the Sunnyslope victory through closely-contested matches, 25-23, 25-17, 25-22.
    Seton Catholic also defended its 2008 title, powered in large part by sophomore Haley Lawless,
who had 24 kills in the nail-biting 21-15, 27-25, 25-22, 25-23 win. 
Seton was seeded No. 3 and had lost earlier this year to Cactus.  Cassie Kramer, a senior opposite hitter, contributed to the win with six aces.