Top AZ team: Xavier Prep volleyball takes 3rd at Nike TOC


Xavier volleyball is back.

And no team in the state’s top high school conference is more painfully aware of that than Corona del Sol High School, the 6A defending state champion.

A week ago, the Tempe school rolled through the Westwood TOC, an invitational that included many of the state’s top-ranked, big-school teams in a field of 34 entrants, winning that event without a loss over nine straight sets.  The Aztecs looked very much like they were headed for a state title repeat this year.

But Xavier Prep injected a dose of reality into those dreams over the weekend, beating Corona in three sets as the two local teams entered play in the Platinum bracket of the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions, which drew nationally-ranked teams and a field of 74 entrees to Arizona.

The Platinum is the top bracket in the tourney, filled by those teams that advance through pool play to earn the right to compete at the elite 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.

There were about three dozen Arizona schools entered this year, but competing against some of the nation’s top teams each year has been difficult.  Xavier was the first Arizona team to break through and win the Platinum, back in 2013, and repeated the next year.  But that has been the only two years in the nine-year run of the tournament in which an Arizona team has won Platinum.

Last year, Corona and Gilbert High were the only local teams in the field of 80 to make it into Platinum play.  Gilbert lost in the first round, but the Aztecs made a run at the title, winning five of its seven matches before losing in the finals to Sacred Heart Academy from Louisville, KY.

This year, Xavier got knocked out in the semifinals, losing 22-25, 18-25, to Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif.  Mater Dei went on to win this year’s title and Xavier came away with a third-place finish by beating California’s Santa Magarita.

Corona matched up with another local entrant, Goodyear’s Millennium High School, and beat the Tigers to finish in fifth place, a long way from where they had intended to finish when they entered the Nike TOC as an unbeaten team.

The Gators, who entered the Nike event as the No. 1 team in the 6A power rankings, accomplished more than finishing third.  Their win over Corona broke the Aztecs’ 37-match win streak that began on Oct. 14 last year.  And get this…that loss was at the hands of Xavier Prep.

Xavier also exacted a little revenge by knocking off Corona in this tourney.  It was the Aztecs that eliminated Xavier from last year’s state tournament, beating the Gators in the semifinals to punch their ticket to the title game, where they swept Mountain Pointe High School with relative ease.

Sophomore outside hitter Briana McKnight had a monster game for Xavier in helping take down Corona in the Nike TOC, finishing with 17 kills and then adding 16 digs and two aces to her contribution.  Senior libero Alyna Draper led with 21 digs and senior setter Shannon Shields had 31 assists.

The Corona offense was led by senior outside hitter and co-captain, Brooke Nuneviller, who had 12 kills.