Xavier Prep was not among the field of 36 teams that played in the first Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. That was back in 2009 and, since then, the Gators have entered only a few times.
But when they do, they pretty well own the event that draws many of the top teams from Arizona and a handful of other states.
The small Catholic school in central Phoenix went undefeated through the event last year to become the first school in the state to win the Platinum bracket. Over the weekend, they repeated the feat, winning all six of their games to roll to a second straight Platinum crown.
A team has to be among the top two in each bracket from Friday’s pool play to earn a spot in Saturday’s Platinum bracket. Six of the eight teams that made it into the elite bracket were Arizona teams. Two of them played for the championship, with Xavier beating Desert Vista High School for the title, 25-22, 25-19.
Last year, Xavier was the No. 3-ranked team in the state when the Gators dethroned St. Joseph’s Academy, an all-girls high school from St. Louis that was the reigning TOC champion. This year, the Gators have lost just three matches all season and are generally considered the top team in the state, and used the Nike TOC to establish themselves as the favorite to repeat as state champs in Division I.
They beat three Arizona teams and three out-of-state teams on the road to this year’s TOC title.
The Gators had to come back from a 9-0 deficit in the final set of the championship match to win last year’s TOC. But this year they were in control throughout most of the championship match. They ran up a 20-12 lead in the first set against Desert Vista and when the Thunder threatened by closing the gap to 23-22, Xavier just slammed the door with a couple of quick kills. In the second set, Xavier held the lead most of the way as it got strong play from the middle and just overwhelmed the Thunder down the stretch.
Xavier’s 6’2″ junior outside hitter, Khalia Lanier, the reigning Big Schools Player of the Year, used powerful kills to nail the final point in each set and finished the match with 12 kills. Kristen Largay, Xavier’s 5’6″ junior libero, had 18 digs and junior setter Callie Jones contributed 21 assists.
Because it is loaded with talented teams, and is the last major tournament of the regular season, the TOC is generally considered a good indicator of what to expect at the state finals. For example, Xavier won the TOC last year and then went on win their state title.
And the depth of the competition at the TOC has grown over the years. There were 36 teams that signed up for the first year, with 23 coming from in-state. This year, there were 34 schools representing Arizona in a full field of 65 teams from nine different states.
Arizona schools were prominent in several other bracket outcomes, taking home two other bracket titles this year, as Sandra Day O’Connor High School beat Deer Valley High to win the Bronze Division and Mountain Ridge High took the Diamond title with a win over Mountain View High School (Mesa).