The odds have always been against one team repeating as champion of the prestigious Goldwater Volleyball Festival tournament. There are just too many good teams competing each year.
This year, Xavier Prep validated that theory as they beat Horizon High School Saturday for the tournament title. The Gators held off a Horizon surge in the first set of the championship game to win it, 25-21, and then went on to make their own comeback run to pull out the second game, 25-22.
Sophomore hitter, Mia Teilborg, had a team-high eight kills to propel the win in the first game. But the second was even tighter, as two of the best high school volleyball teams in the state tied the game four times down the stretch before Abby Hornacek put the win away with a timely kill.
For Xavier, which had beaten Horizon earlier in the tournament as well, it was a victory that showed they will likely to be favored again when we get to the state playoffs. Last month, the Gators won the gold division title in the Westwood Tournament of Champions, which is also considered a barometer of talent for the state’s best teams. They won it last year, as well.
Xavier has won state 5A-I titles in five of the past six years, including the last two.
But the victory in the Goldwater championship game was also sweet revenge for the Gators, who were beaten by Horizon earlier in the season.
The Goldwater draws 32 of the state’s best high school teams each year and has become popular because it offers a unique format that enables schools to play opponents from other divisions head-to-head. It offers an opportunity they wouldn’t get during the regular season schedule.
And, because the field is so deep in talent each year, it’s almost impossible for any one school to dominate. Last year, Sunnyslope High School beat Xavier for the title. The year before, Desert Vista High School won the title in a championship match-up with Gilbert High School. You get the idea.
Xavier last won the Goldwater in 2008, when they beat Gilbert High in the championship.
Horizon, which won the past two 5A-II state championships, has a great squad again this year. They return four starters from that championship team and have incredible size. Christine Johnson, at 6’4″, combines with at least four other players who top the 6’1″ mark.
Nikki Hess, a junior outside hitter who sparked Horizon’s 7-point run in the first game of the Goldwater and led the team with eight kills, is one of those returning starters who will play a key role in any run to a state title this year.
The Huskies should go deep into the state playoffs this year. Which means there is a good chance they will meet Xavier one more time.