Gilbert HS wins House of Payne; Westwood TOC is next

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                </div>  The Gilbert High girls’ volleyball team once again was able to use the House of Payne Invitational to get ready for the most challenging early-season tournament in the state, […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The Gilbert High girls’ volleyball team once again was able to use the House of Payne Invitational to get ready for the most challenging early-season tournament in the state, the Westwood Tournament of Champions that begins Friday.

This year’s title in the gold division of the House of Payne makes it two in a row now for the Tigers, after they won it last year by rolling through the 16-team event undefeated and beating Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School 25-21, 25-19 in the finals.

Gilbert was the No. 3-ranked team in Division I when it entered the Payne Invite last year, and came into the event this season ranked No. 4.  But the results were the same as the Tigers upped their season record to 12-1 after winning all eight of the matches they played and topped off the weekend by beating Corona again, but needing three sets to do it this time.  The Aztecs came back from a 21-25 loss in the opener and then closed out the championship win 25-16, 15-11.

Junior outside hitter Makenna Martin fueled the Tiger offense with 12 kills and 18 digs, while outside hitter Kaitlyn Lines contributed seven kills and libero Kameryn Hill finished with 25 digs.

The loss in the finals was the first of the season for Corona.  Their near-upset against Gilbert in the finals was led by middle blocker Emma West who had eight kills and libero Alyssa Meyer who posted 11 digs.

Martin was named to the All-Tournament Team, along with Corona’s Lauren Forte, Taylor Knoll (Perry HS), Megan Mowry (Boulder Creek HS), Bethany Wedepohl (Saguaro HS), Gionni Brown (Chandler HS), and Ally Eylers (Highland HS).  Knoll was also selected as the tournament MVP.

Gilbert’s only loss has come against Hamilton High from Chandler – and that’s one of the 36 schools that will be competing this weekend in the Westwood TOC.  Hamilton is the top-ranked team in Division I and will be just one of many of the state’s top programs that play in the Westwood each year.

There are 11 teams entered that are ranked in the top 10 of their respective divisions.  In addition to No. 1 Hamilton and No. 4 Gilbert, the top Division I teams in the field include No. 2 Desert Vista HS (Phoenix), No. 5 Horizon HS (Scottsdale), No. 6 Basha HS (Chandler), and No. 7 Corona. Division II will be well-represented by No. 2 Sunnyslope HS, No. 5 Deer Valley HS, and No. 6 Liberty HS (Peoria).

Sunnyslope, the reigning state champ in Division II, has won six of the last eight state titles and will be a contender in this year’s field.  The Vikings have four starters back from their 2013 championship team.

And last week, Desert Vista swept No. 3-ranked Xavier Prep, the defending D-I state champion, in a regular-season match to confirm its qualifications as the No. 2 team among the big schools.  Xavier, which has last year’s Big Schools Player of the Year Khalia Lanier back for her junior year, is not entered in the Westwood TOC for a second straight year, so the expectations are to see Hamilton and Desert Vista vying for this year’s tournament title.

But Hamilton has a lock on the top spot right now for good reason.  The Huskies returned their two top offensive weapons from last year.  Senior McKenna Woodford finished the season with 236 kills and junior Olivia Hallaran led with 237.

To make that much-anticipated match-up between Hamilton and Desert Vista all the more interesting is an additional motivation for the Thunder called “revenge.”  Hamilton won last year’s state title by beating Desert Vista in the championship game.

But wait, there’s more.  Hamilton and Desert Vista have been in a dog fight for the last two years at the Westwood TOC, with the Huskies winning the championship game both years, and the Thunder going home with the runner-up left-overs.  A third opportunity would find Desert Vista a frustrated – and determined – opponent.

There will be a lot of good volleyball, however, before that championship game rolls around Saturday afternoon. That’s why the Westwood TOC is regarded as the first major tournament of the season – even without the defending state champion in the field.