Prep volleyball: season’s big tourneys fast approaching

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                </div>  Since the 21-team Payson Invitational Tournament kicked off girls’ high school volleyball in Arizona a week ago, there have been smaller tournaments sprouting up like mushrooms on almost a […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Since the 21-team Payson Invitational Tournament kicked off girls’ high school volleyball in Arizona a week ago, there have been smaller tournaments sprouting up like mushrooms on almost a daily basis.

But next week things get serious.  The 36-team Tournament of Champions in the East Valley will run Sept. 18-19, a warm-up for the big Nike Tournament of Champions two weeks later… which serves as a preview of sorts for the state tournaments that begin Nov. 3.

The Nike TOC has 49 teams registered this year, drawing not only local schools, but teams from California, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon – and as far away as Alaska.  In 2013, Xavier Prep in Phoenix became the first in-state school to win the Platinum title in the event’s top bracket, and then the Gators came back last year to repeat the feat.

Play in next week’s TOC will be spread among gyms at Mesa HS, Skyline HS, and Westwood HS in Mesa, and Gilbert’s Highland High School.  And the field will feature teams from across the various divisions, giving schools a rare opportunity to play head-to-head with teams from divisions above or below them.

The competition will be stiff, as always.  The No. 1 teams in both Division I (Hamilton High) and Division II (Notre Dame Prep) will be among the 36 teams, which is second only to the Nike event in size of the field.

But one thing can be expected: it will almost certainly be won by a team from the east side of the Valley.

That’s also pretty much a certainty when it comes to which school will be crowned the 2015 state champion in the state’s top division.  The top nine Division I teams in the latest azcentral sports’ rankings are all from the east, with Chandler’s Hamilton sitting at the top and Desert Vista High School at No. 2 and Xavier Prep No. 3, both Phoenix schools (although Xavier might best be described as a central-city school).  Gilbert High, another past state champion, is No. 4, rounding out the favorites to make it to the title game.

A handful of these East Valley schools have been trading the D-I state title back and forth for the last decade.

Try to follow the bouncing ball:

Desert Vista took the 2014 title away from Xavier, which won it in 2013.  Horizon was crowned in 2012, and Gilbert High in 2011.  And before that Xavier enjoyed a four-year reign that ran from 2007 through 2010.  The Gators took the title from Gilbert, which won it in 2006, taking over after Xavier claimed it in 2005.

You get the idea.  The seat of power in D-I has long resided on the east side of the Valley.

But this may be the year for Hamilton to step into the title rotation.  Not that the Huskies haven’t been very involved over recent years.  They have been in the state finals three times in the last five years, getting beat by Desert Vista in last year’s championship match and losing to Xavier in the final the year before.

Hamilton has been loaded the last few years.  In 2013, they fielded an athletic, tall team that won 37 games and was nationally-ranked, a team generally considered the best that the Chandler school has produced in a long time.  Last season, they were the No. 1-ranked team in Division I before relinquishing the top spot to Xavier before the regular season closed.

This year, the Huskies have senior leadership and key players returning from a team that won 34 matches in 2014. Leading the way are 6’3″ middle blocker Preslie Anderson, a finalist last season for National Sophomore of the Year who has already committed to play for UC Berkeley, and Olivia O’Halloran, a senior outside hitter who is averaging a team-high 5.3 kills a set.

Right now, Hamilton has to be considered the favorite to finally claim that state title that has been eluding it in recent years.  However, the Huskies have been in this position before.

Another trip to the state finals would be nice.  But it won’t mean a thing unless it results in a title this time.