Desert Vista HS wins D-I volleyball title in 5 sets

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                </div>  When Hamilton High School was the No. 1 team in the azcentral state volleyball rankings back in mid-September, Desert Vista High School moved up to replace Xavier Prep as […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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When Hamilton High School was the No. 1 team in the azcentral state volleyball rankings back in mid-September, Desert Vista High School moved up to replace Xavier Prep as the No. 2 team.  That move turned out to be an early predictor of which teams fans could expect to see in the state finals.

The only difference is that Desert Vista, which has since worked its way into the No. 1 position, turned the tables on No. 2 Hamilton in last night’s championship match with a thrilling five-set victory in front of a full house at the Mesquite High School gymnasium.

It had to be frustrating for Hamilton to lose the top spot in Division I as the season progressed, but that paled in comparison to the angst it went through in losing the title match last night; it was the third time in the last five years that the Huskies had to settle for a runner-up finish.  Last year they won 37 games and came within one set of winning it all and this year won 34 before once again falling short by losing a fifth set in the final match of the championship game.

When the season began, Hamilton was considered by many to be a slight favorite in a wide-open field that included a handful of good programs capable of winning it all.  But the Huskies were loaded: they returned their top two scorers from last year, the top four in the kills category, and the top two shot blockers.

By mid-October they were ranked as the No. 28 team in the nation by MaxPreps.  But Desert Vista was up there at No. 13, and No. 1 in the state, while Xavier, the defending state champion, was No. 15 nationally and No. 2 in the state.  The season was turning into a survival of the fittest.

And Desert Vista became the last team standing.

The Thunder punched their ticket to the finals by disposing rather easily of No. 5-seeded Basha High in the semifinals, but Hamilton had to get past No. 3 Xavier – and it took everything they had in the tank to survive the five-set battle.  The final set went down to the wire before Hamilton pulled out the 16-14 win.

The win was particularly sweet since it gave the Huskies a chance to avenge last year’s loss to the Gators in the state championship game.

Had Xavier won and earned the chance to match up with Desert Vista in the championship game, it would have set up a revenge match of a different sort.  Xavier won its second straight platinum title in the Nike Tournament of Champions late in the season by beating the Thunder.  That tournament is the last major event of the regular season and drew 65 teams from nine different states, so it’s a good indicator of which local team has the best shot at a state title.

But the meeting between Desert Vista (41-3) and Hamilton (33-9) turned out to be what fans expect from a championship bout.

The teams split the first two sets by identical 25-21 scores, before top-seeded Desert Vista began hitting its stride in the third set, taking an early lead that it held the rest of the way to a 25-18 victory.  Hamilton stormed back in the fourth set, taking a 10-0 lead and holding on for another 25-21 win.

But the Thunder asserted itself in the fifth set, stepping out to a 7-2 lead and never letting the Huskies get closer than three points as they rolled to a 15-6 win and the school’s first-ever state title in girls volleyball.

The Desert Vista attack at the net was led by junior Hailey Howard with 10 kills, combined with nine apiece from sophomore middle blocker Hailey Dirrigl and junior Rachel Kramer, the 6’8″ middle blocker.

Hamilton’s Presley Anderson led the Huskies in the losing effort as the sophomore contributed 14 kills, followed by 11 from senior McKenna Woodford.

One more near-miss had to be hard to take for a Hamilton team that appeared in a good position to win its first-ever volleyball title.  But there’s a silver lining to the way this season ended for the Huskies.

All but one of the starters from this squad will be back next year and will be battle-tested and even more ready to claim a state title of its own.