Sunnyslope volleyball upends Xavier to win the Goldwater

Sunnyslope High School was not to be denied this time.  The Vikings’ girls volleyball team turned the tables on Xavier Prep to win the prestigious Goldwater Volleyball Festival that concluded yesterday.

Xavier snatched the Westwood Tournament of Champions title from the Vikings last month, when a Sunnyslope hitting error in the final game of the championship set – which went to the wire, 15-13 – gave the Westwood title to Xavier.

But the Vikings left little doubt about which school was the best team in the Goldwater, generally regarded as one of the best high school volleyball tournaments in Arizona and the closest thing to the state championships.

This year’s event, hosted by Barry Goldwater High School, again drew 32 schools and included the best teams from all the various divisions, from small-school to large-school competition, competing head-to-head.

4A-I Sunnyslope had to get past state 5A power, Gilbert High School, last year’s Goldwater runner-up, to challenge the three-time defending 5A-I state champion Gators, who won the 2008 Goldwater title.

Sunnyslope lost the first game of the finals, a stem-winder that went to 29-27 before Xavier prevailed, and it appeared Xavier might be on its way to another Goldwater championship.  The Gators, who returned seven players from last year’s championship team, got the early lead in the second game, but the Vikings bore down the rest of the way behind the play of senior outside hitter Madison Kingdon and setter Heidi Thompson to win this year’s crown with scores of 27-29, 25-10, and 15-8.

It has been difficult for one team to dominate the Goldwater, since so may good teams are always in the field.  Last year it was Desert Vista HS beating Gilbert HS for the title, and the year before, it was Xavier taking down Gilbert in the finals for the 2008 win.

And Gilbert was expected to be back strong again this year, as the Tigers returned their setter, Sarah Beene, and several top hitters from the 2009 campaign.

Between Gilbert and Xavier, one team or the other has won the state title the past five years, with Xavier accounting for four of those.

But Sunnyslope didn’t sneak up on anyone this year.  They are 25-2 on the year and served notice at the Westwood that they would present a challenge to any team in the Goldwater field.

Most of the teams use the Goldwater to get a chance to play against teams in other divisions, good teams that will challenge them and present an opportunity they wouldn’t get during the regular schedule.  Some coaches use the event to experiment with line-up changes as they prepare for the state championships.

But every coach knows what’s at stake at the Goldwater.  The champion gets to enjoy the bragging rights for another year, so there’s still a keen focus on winning every game possible.

And this season, the Vikes get to do the bragging.