AZ volleyball teams fall short in top division of Nike TOC

Arizona’s high school volleyball teams represented the state well at the Nike Tournament of Champions over the weekend – but still struggled in the event’s showcase division of top teams.

The tournament, played at Court One in Tempe and co-sponsored by Chandler High School and its school district, began here four years ago.  Since then it has grown from a field of 36 teams to a full contingent of 64 teams representing a half-dozen states that stretch all the way to the Midwest – and even includes an entry from Alaska.

There were 23 Arizona teams in that inaugural tournament.  This year there were 38, which is almost two-thirds of the entire field.

But one thing hasn’t changed much.  The best teams in the home state don’t all show up.

In that first tournament in 2009, which was played in high schools around the East Valley, the No. 1 ranked team in every division was noticeably absent from the field.

This year, the platinum division might have included more than just Gilbert High School, Basha High in Chandler, and Desert Vista High School in Phoenix – but again there were a few top teams that didn’t enter.  Teams earned the right to play in the platinum division by advancing through pool play during the opening day.

Gilbert and Basha wound up playing each other for third place – which Basha won.  Desert Vista fell by the wayside after being swept by Gilbert in the opening match.

But St. Joseph’s Academy, an all-girls high school from St. Louis, won this year’s Nike TOC title.  And Marist High School from Chicago, which eliminated Basha in two sets in the semifinals, took second place.

All three of the Arizona squads that advanced to platinum play are some of the best the state has to offer; Gilbert is the defending state champion in Division I.

But some of the other big-school powers were missing, including Scottsdale’s Horizon High School, which won the Goldwater Volleyball Festival and the Westwood Tournament of Champions earlier in the season, and Xavier Prep in Phoenix, the 2010 Division I state champion.

And Glendale’s Mountain Ridge High School was also absent this year.  The Mountain Lions proved they deserve a mention as well after coming within a couple of points of beating Horizon for the Goldwater title.

It would have been interesting to see Horizon High, arguably the best among the state’s Division I schools this year, compete in this one, too.  The Huskies are 37-3 overall and undefeated in division play.

But there was a lot of winning by Arizona teams going on in the lower divisions of the TOC.  Hamilton High, a top-five team in Division I, won the Gold title and a couple of local teams played for the Silver championship, with Flagstaff High School beating Sunnyslope High for that title.

In the other three divisions, the championships were also played between Arizona squads.  Thatcher High School beat Mesa High for the Bronze title, Deer Valley High School took the Diamond division title by defeating Mountain View (Mesa) High, and the Sapphire division title went to Tempe Prep via a win over Mesa’s Red Mountain High School.

Maybe next year Arizona will be able to add a platinum champion to the list.

That is, if that team decides to show up to play in this event.