Arizona high schools picked up more than their share of titles from the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions girls’ volleyball tourney over the weekend. But the big prize eluded them this year.
In 2013, Xavier Prep, the small Catholic school in central Phoenix, became the first Arizona school to win the Platinum Division of the invitational, the bracket that is filled by those teams that advance through pool play to earn the right to compete at the top level of what has become one of the major national tournaments of the high school season. A team has to be among the top two in each bracket to advance to Platinum.
Arizona teams actually took two of the top three spots that year, with Horizon High School in Scottsdale coming in third. Xavier, which was the No. 3-ranked team in the state at the time, went through the tourney undefeated and had to beat three out-of-state teams from the field of 64 entrants to win the Platinum crown.
And then the Gators returned to win it again last year, beating Phoenix Desert Vista High School in the finals.
Xavier was led through the competition those last two years by 6’2″ outside hitter Khalia Lanier, who is a senior this year. But Lanier, who has committed to play for USC next year, sprained her ankle in a match with Hamilton High just days earlier and the Gators weren’t the same team without her.
This year, the seventh for the event, the Gators had to settle for runner-up in the second-tier Gold division, which was won by Gilbert High School. Gilbert narrowly missed getting to compete with the Platinum competition, taking a set from Jesuit High from Portland, Ore., a nationally-ranked team that had not lost a set all season before Gilbert beat them. Xavier also fell to a nationally-ranked team in its effort to get into Platinum play. The Gators, too, became the first team this season to take a set from Florida power P.K. Yonge High School before losing the match.
Gilbert’s match with Jesuit was unquestionably the best of the event for the Tigers, but they appeared to still have plenty of momentum when it came to playing Xavier. The Tigers handily won the first set, 25-17, before Xavier rallied to win the next, 25-21. And the final set went down to the wire, with Gilbert pulling out the 15-12 win.
Gilbert’s attack was led by Kaitlyn Lines and Makenna Martin. Lines tallied 10 kills and Martin added six kills and 12 digs. Lanie Wagner led the way for Xavier with seven kills and Makena Patterson was right behind with six.
P.K. Yonge and Jesuit High went on to play for the Platinum title, with Jesuit winning this year’s crown in two sets.
But there were three Arizona teams that qualified for Platinum: Desert Vista, Chandler’s Hamilton, and Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.
Desert Vista, the reigning state champion in Division I, made it into Platinum play by beating Corona in the final round of bracket play, but eventually lost to Jesuit High in the Platinum semifinals to finish in third place. That made the Thunder the highest-placing local team in the tourney.
Arizona schools fared much better in the other six divisions, with Tucson’s Ironwood Ridge winning the Sapphire title, Sandra Day O’Connor from Phoenix taking the Diamond title, Horizon earning the Silver crown, and the Emerald title going to Goodyear’s Desert Edge High School.