Early tourneys help bring girls prep volleyball into focus

Things are coming into focus early in the girls’ high school volleyball season.  And, to no one’s surprise, Horizon High has become the focal point in Division I.

Horizon’s 3-1 win over Xavier Prep last week, before the team took off to play in this weekend’s Durango Fall Classic in Colorado, was its 14th straight win against in-state competition.

The Huskies will be wearing a huge target on their backs the rest of the way.

But the Sept. 11 victory over perennial state power Xavier lost some of its drama since the Scottsdale school had already beaten the Gators several days earlier in the season’s first major tournament, the Tournament of Champions at Westwood High School in Mesa.

Xavier, the 2010 state champion in Division I and semi-finalist last year, was the two-time defending champion at the Westwood TOC.  The Phoenix Catholic school  (10-4) beat last year’s state champion, Gilbert High, to advance to the Westwood quarterfinals this year, but lost to Horizon – which went on to win the tournament.

Horizon had little trouble putting away Desert Vista High School in the championship match, 25-15, 25-19.  Desert Vista, which has come on strong this season in Division I play, is 13-3, with its only losses coming at the hands of three top-ranked teams: Hamilton, Xavier, and Horizon.  It won 8 of its 10 matches in the TOC.

But Horizon has just been too big and too talented for anyone to handle this year, and has to be considered the favorite to win it all.   The Huskies went through the TOC without losing once in 18 sets, with its strong outside hitters, junior Sierra Nobley and senior Nikki Hess, taking charge at the net in the title game, each recording seven kills.  They also contributed six digs each, while the Huskies’ 6’4″ middle blocker, Tess Clark, posted two solo blocks.

Horizon has received so little challenge so far this season that it has lost just three sets, beating Scottsdale’s Chaparral High School, 3-2, in just the second match of the season, and then losing the set to Xavier last week.

The most likely competition when state-tournament time rolls around in November will be the same opponents Horizon met at Westwood.  Xavier entered the season ranked No. 2 behind the Huskies, while Gilbert was ranked No. 3 and Hamilton No. 5 behind Mountain Ridge High.

Gilbert, which won the 2011 state title by beating Horizon in a five-game match, has just one returning starter from that squad.

Another Division I team not ranked in the pre-season top five, Mesa High School, is enjoying an impressive start to the season.  The Jackkrabbits are 17-5 and tuned up by rolling through the House of Payne Invitational at Chandler High during the opening week of the season, going undefeated through eight games in the 16-team event, and beating Division II Liberty High School in Peoria for the title.

Mesa is being paced this season by the senior leadership and offensive contributions of its 6’0″ setter, Kelcee Munk, who is averaging 2.7 kills a game.  Munk was named the Payne tournament Most Valuable Player after leading the Jackrabbits to its title win over Liberty by recording 17 kills.

A couple of juniors are helping Munk with the heavy lifting: libero Gloria Tukuafu, who had 15 digs against Liberty to bring her season total to 273, and Drea Farnsworth, the 5’11” middle blocker who had six blocks in the title game and is averaging 1.5 kills a game.

There’s still lots of season ahead, but it would be hard to pick against Horizon when considering this year’s state title winner.