To quote Yogi Berra, it’s ‘deja vu all over again’ for the Perry High School girls’ volleyball team.
The Pumas won this year’s House of Payne Volleyball Invite over the weekend, which adds to the team’s growing confidence and hope that this could be the year that the Gilbert school gains entry into the inner circle of the state’s elite volleyball programs.
But they won the House of Payne last year, and the year before. And both seasons they posted one of the better won-loss records in the state, 26-6 last year and 29-7 the year before that.
A great start to the year and a very successful season ended both years in quarterfinal elimination in the state finals. They were knocking on the door to the elite’s clubhouse, but once again couldn’t gain entry.
With the exception of last year, when Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School had its break-through season by winning the 6A state championship, the big-school titles for the past 10 years have been passed around among a small handful of schools.
Xavier Prep was crowned state champion five times, Desert Vista High School and Gilbert High earned a couple titles each, and Horizon High joined the party in 2012. Xavier has been the dominant force in recent years, winning 11 titles over the last 20 years.
Perry continues to put top-caliber teams on the floor that should be included in that group.
Fred Mann took over a struggling program in 2013 that had averaged five wins a season in three years under his predecessor and immediately began putting together 20-win seasons. In his last four years directing the program, the Pumas have averaged 26.5 wins a season and had a continual presence in the post-season.
But Perry is still looking for that state title that will validate its stature as one of the top programs in the state, and give the Pumas the key to the clubhouse.
This year could be that year. The 2017 roster includes a deep line-up of returning players from last season who have helped fuel a 12-0 start to the new season.
That includes senior hitter Ryann Davis and senior middle Kennedy Kaminsky, who were selected to the House of Payne All-Tournament team. Davis, who led last year’s squad with 351 kills, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player
Davis had nine kills in the tourney, second on the team to Alexis (Lexi) Keith, another returning player, who had a match-high 14 kills. Davis, a 6-foot outside hitter, is another senior who is part of a very deep pool of experienced players that will provide the leadership needed if Perry is to finally reach the top of the mountain this year.
That group also includes seniors Katie Koski and Halle Razo. Koski is the setter who recorded 24 assists in helping the team to the House of Payne title and Razo is the libero who chipped in 18 digs for the win.
Add to that a junior, Grace Doyle, who finished last season second on the team in kills, with 115.
The final match of the tourney, hosted each year by Chandler High in the Coy C. Payne Gymnasium, provided a good test for just where the Perry program is this year. The Pumas beat Horizon, another top program that had gone through the tourney undefeated until meeting up with Perry.
Horizon won the first set, 25-20, but it was all Perry the rest of the way as the Pumas took control to win the second set, 25-17, and then walked off with a 15-6 final-set victory.
This was the second time this season that Perry has beat Horizon. Last week, the Pumas traveled to Scottsdale to play the Huskies on their home court and came away with a 3-1 victory.
So far, Perry has played some very competitive teams and notched seven shutouts along the way.
And now it can add a solid early-season tournament win to boost its hopes for a legitimate shot at that state title that has been just out of reach.
But, with so much of its talent due to graduate after this season, there is a real sense of urgency this year.
So is this tourney win really a good omen of things to come?
Or a jinx on another unfulfilled title run?