The Division I state tournament for girls volleyball began Tuesday, but today is when it gets serious.
In Tuesday’s first round in Division I, top-seeded Desert Vista High School cruised to a 3-0 win over No. 16 Mountain Ridge High and No. 2 Xavier Prep swept No.15 Liberty High School in three straight. No. 3 Gilbert High rolled over No. 14 Campo Verde and No. 4 Hamilton swept No. 13 Chaparral.
That takes care of the required preliminaries. Now the main event gets started.
Add Sunnyslope High, a 3-1 winner over Sandra Day O’Connor High, to the mix and you have the five teams that have been positioning all season long for a shot at the state title, which will be decided in the Nov. 10 championship match.
The exclusive pack of primarily East Valley teams has reigned over girls’ volleyball in Division I for years. Desert Vista took the 2014 title away from Xavier, which claimed it in 2005 and then owned it for four straight years from 2007 to 2010 before winning it again in 2013. Gilbert was state champ in 2006 and again in 2011.
But this new group of five, with newcomer Sunnyslope, will be thinned by at least one team since Hamilton and Sunnyslope will meet at 6:30 tonight on Hamilton’s court. The visiting Vikings have added a new wrinkle to the power structure in Division I since moving up this year after winning the last two state titles in Division II.
Based on what we’ve seen in the regular season, Desert Vista has a good chance to repeat as state champion. But the Thunder have a big obstacle standing in the way in the semi-final round. If DV beats No. 8 Basha High tonight and Hamilton gets past Sunnyslope, it will set up what could be the best match of the tournament when the two teams meet to see who gets into the 2015 title match.
That game would also give fans a chance to see two of the top players in the state on the same floor. Six-foot senior opposite hitter Olivia Fairchild, who leads the Desert Vista team with 370 kills and a .327 hitting percentage, headlines a roster that includes eight players who have already been scooped up by college recruiters. Hamilton’s Preslie Anderson is a 6’3″ middle hitter that was named to the All-Arizona Team last year as a sophomore and is having a break-out year, with 382 kills and a .438 hitting percentage.
It would also be a repeat of last year’s state final, when the Thunder earned the 2014 title by beating Hamilton in five sets. After losing to DV in tournament play, the Huskies tried to even the score again in an Oct. 6 match, but Desert Vista prevailed again, 3-1.
The spotlight was also on these two teams in this year’s Westwood Tournament of Champions in mid-September, giving a preview of sorts of what to expect in the state tournament. Desert Vista went undefeated through that tournament and had to come from behind to beat the Huskies in the final.
Desert Vista (38-3) and Hamilton (36-5) were also two of the three local teams to make it into the top division of the 49-team Nike Tournament of Champions, the last major tournament of the regular season. Hamilton lost in the first round and DV made into the semifinals before losing to the eventual tournament champion, nationally-ranked Jesuit High from Oregon.
The other team that made it into Platinum play at the Nike TOC was Corona del Sol High School, which is seeded No.10 in the state tourney and scheduled to take on Xavier tonight. Corona (21-18) used aggressive serving, solid defense, and 13 kills from 6’3″ sophomore outside hitter Emma West to come back after losing its first set to No. 7 Centennial High and rally for the four-set victory.
The two teams met in mid-October in the Gilbert Invitational Tournament, with Xavier winning in two straight sets.
Tonight’s games will give the top seeds some better competition, but when the dust clears it’s unlikely the semifinals will look much different than in years past, when the ‘Big Four’ battle it out for a spot in the title game.