Gone are the days of domination in boys’ high school volleyball in Arizona. If you need proof, just look at today’s match-ups in the state tournament semi-finals.
Gilbert High School, last year’s state champion, is there. And so is perennial power Highland High, Gilbert’s cross-town rival. But the Mesa High School Jackrabbits are making a bid this season for ultimate respect. And Desert Vista High, located out there in the southeast corner of Phoenix, barely squeezed into the pre-season Top 10 list but now is not only one of the four players still left in the game, it has to be considered the favorite.
Mountain Pointe High, which has won five state titles in the last dozen or so years was knocked out in the opening round by Centennial High. Brophy Prep, which has a pair of titles of its own in recent years, lost in the quarterfinals to Gilbert. And the champions from 2011 and 2010, Deer Valley High and Mountain View High lasted just one round before being eliminated.
As it turns out, the seeding was right on target this year. The four teams left standing are the top four seeds. Highland (#2) will take on Mesa (#3) in the 5:30 pm game at Gilbert High School, and top-seed Desert Vista will meet No. 4 Gilbert in the late game.
(*Update: Highland High and Gilbert High met for this year’s championship, making it a cross-town rivalry match, with Highland completing a 25-20, 25-20, 25-22 sweep for the Division I title. Highland last won a state volleyball title in 2005.)
For Desert Vista and Mesa, advancement to the finals would set up a re-wind of the season’s beginning when Mesa beat the Thunder in the semi-finals of the early-March Chandler Wolf Howl Invitational, regarded as one of the strongest tournaments of the season and a preview of sorts to the state tournament.
Desert Vista rolled through the regular season undefeated, but Mesa might actually be considered a slight favorite should the meeting occur. The Jackrabbits lost just one senior from last year’s 25-10 squad and are more than ready for a break-through season. They have been pretty consistent about getting to the post-season in recent years, but haven’t been able to get past the second round in more than 10 years.
But first, Desert Vista has to get past the Gilbert Tigers.
Gilbert, despite returning just three starters from last year’s title team, will give the favored Desert Vista all they can handle tonight. The Tigers displayed their ability to play against the best when they rallied from behind in the first two sets against Brophy Tuesday night and went on to pull out a four-set victory and earn a place at the table tonight.
Should Gilbert win tonight, the school would keep alive its chance to try to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since 2008-2009 when Mountain Pointe accomplished the feat.
And Mesa will have to find a way to get past a talent-laden Highland team.
Highland is also ready for a break-through. The Hawks have been runner-up to the state champion three times in the last seven years, but their last title came in 2005 when they completed a back-to-back championship performance.
This year, Highland has both experience and depth. And, even more worrisome to Mesa, the Hawks closed out the regular season by beating the Jackrabbits.
Tonight’s semis will be great volleyball – but with teams so closely matched, it’s too difficult to predict a winner on either side of the bracket.
It’s called parity. Get used to it.