Horizon, Xavier defend volleyball titles – but it wasn’t easy

The 5A volleyball championships are over and consecutive titles by Xavier Prep (5A-I) and Horizon High School (5A-II) made it look like just another day at the office.  This championship for Xavier was actually the school’s fourth in a row and the fifth in the past six years.

But it was anything but easy for either team.  Both championship matches went five games and each winning team had to overcome critical deficits to pull out victory.

For Xavier, it was a comeback in the fourth game that was necessary to eventually beat third-seeded Hamilton High School (Gilbert).  The Phoenix school, which hasn’t lost a state tournament match in four years, was the top-seeded team in 5A-I at this year’s state tourney.

But it found this year’s title quest to be the most difficult in a long time.

The Gators strolled through the first game, as Abby Hornacek and Megan O’Sullivan contributed three kills apiece in the 25-15 win.

But Hamilton came back strong in the next two games, recording six service aces and displaying an impressive offensive effort.  The Huskies’ wins, both 25-19, were fueled by Brittany Thomas and Ashli Bellinger, each with three kills, combined with five kills and three blocks from middle blocker, Payton Bock.

It looked like the Huskies were going to put the title away in the fourth game, taking a 9-1 lead before Xavier caught up at 16-16, and the game was tied four more times before the defending champions locked down the 25-23 win with a Caitlin Downs kill and went on to a 15-6 finale for the title.

In 5A-II, fans were treated to a similar feast as Horizon (Scottsdale) had to pull itself out of a hole in more than one game to get past Desert Mountain HS (Scottsdale), which had upset No. 1 Ironwood Ridge (Oro Valley).

In fact, the Huskies had fallen behind 12-8 in the final game before rallying to wrap up the title, 25-27, 25-21, 28-26, 22-25, 15-13.

The Woves had built up some momentum going into the fifth and final game, since they worked their way out of a 10-3 hole in the previous game, ran off six straight points and put the exclamation mark on the three-point win with an ace from Jocelyn Leichner.

That enthusiasm carried the Wolves into the final game, as they opened with a 4-1 lead before Horizon roared back with four straight points.  But Desert Mountain rallied again to take a 12-8 lead before Horizon overtook them and capped off the win and the title on a kill by freshman, Sierra Nobley.