It looks like Arizona’s high school volleyball teams are going to have to wait another year to try to get back on top of the stack of the nation’s elite teams participating in the Nike Tournament of Champions, held over the weekend at gyms in Chandler, Tempe, and Phoenix.
Xavier Prep became the first Arizona team to win the prestigious Platinum bracket title back in 2013. The Gators came back for an encore, winning it again in 2014. But that concluded the short-lived reign of in-state teams.
Jesuit High from Portland, Ore., claimed the title last year and Sacred Heart Academy from Louisville, KY, is this year’s Platinum champion after the annual tournament wrapped up its eighth season here in the Valley.
The Platinum is the top bracket, 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.
Last year, Jesuit played Florida power P.K. Yonge High School for the title. But this year, Arizona got a shot at winning it all when Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School advanced to the championship game to face Sacred Heart.
Corona, which was one of three Arizona teams that qualified for Platinum play last year, won five of its seven matches this time in its effort to keep the championship trophy from leaving the state one more time.
But Sacred Heart, which went undefeated through the tourney, proved to be too much to handle, winning the title in straight sets with identical scores of 25-17.
This year, it was just Corona and Gilbert High that advanced out of pool play into the Platinum bracket. Gilbert lost to Notre Dame Belmont in the first round.
Corona, 24-3 and ranked No. 2 in the 6A conference behind Chandler’s Hamilton High, was primed for this year’s Nike challenge after winning the Westwood Tournament of Champions the week before.
When Xavier was winning back-to-back Nike TOC titles, and posting national rankings, its offense was fueled by one of the best high school volleyball players this state has produced, Khalia Lanier. The 6’2″ outside hitter graduated last year after earning both azcentral sports Player of the Year and Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year honors.
Corona doesn’t have a Khalia Lanier in the line-up, but a couple of power-hitting upper classmen are leading the Aztecs toward a potential state championship. Junior outside hitter/libero Brooke Nuneviller recorded 12 kills to lead the way at the Westwood TOC and then was the driving force at the Nike TOC with eight kills. Senior Lauren Forte, a 6’4″ middle blocker who is the other half of the tandem, contributed 16 kills over the two tourneys.
This year’s Nike TOC featured seven Top-25 nationally-ranked teams in a field of 80 schools that included 38 local entries. That has grown from the inaugural event that included a total of 23 local teams in a full field of 36 schools.
Corona beat one of those nationally-ranked squads, Archbishop Mitty from California, in the semifinals.
Four other in-state teams were successful, winning titles in the lower brackets: Chaparral HS (Diamond), Arcadia HS (Sapphire), Desert Edge HS (Emerald), and Thatcher HS (Ruby).