Back on March 3, Sandra Day O’Connor High School ran away with the boys’ volleyball title in the Wolf Howl Invitational at Chandler High School, rolling undefeated through nine games. The Eagles were off to a 11-0 start to the 2018 season.
Across the state in Tucson, American Leadership Academy was busy winning the TUSD Invitational at Palo Verde High School, also going undefeated on the way to that tournament title. The Patriots, in just their third season playing the sport, used the event to help open the season 9-0.
It was a sign that both teams were looking forward to a successful season and likely a deep run in the playoffs.
In fact, both schools did have great runs at the state tournament. O’Connor advanced to play in the 6A state championship and American Leadership made it to the 5A title game.
But that’s where the dreams ended.
O’Connor had beaten Desert Vista High in that Wolf Howl tourney, a particularly satisfying victory since DV had eliminated the Eagles in the first round of last year’s state tournament. But the Thunder was up to the challenge over the weekend, beating O’Connor in three straight sets – 25-22, 26-24, 25-18 – to win its second boys’ volleyball state championship, its first since 2007.
The second set seemed to be the turning point in the match. After losing the first set, SDO took control in the second set, but couldn’t hold on, allowing Desert Vista to make a late run and push the lead to 2-0. The Thunder then jumped out to an early 14-3 lead in the third set and rolled to the win.
Perry High had eliminated top-seeded Chandler in the quarterfinals and Desert Vista beat No. 3 Mountain View High (Mesa) in the semifinals, so the title game featured No. 2 seed Desert Vista against No. 4 O’Connor.
Desert Vista, which is heavy with juniors this season, were led in the title game by a junior, Landon Fuller, who contributed 11 kills in the championship match. Four other players had six each: Depre Rogers, Jaden Rollins, Mason Harbertson, and Isaac Skidmore.
O’Connor is still looking for the school’s first state championship in boys’ volleyball, but its new head coach, Troy Dueling, is moving the program closer to the goal. Dueling has shown he can do just that after leading Anthem’s Boulder Creek High School to a couple of titles before coming to SDO.
The 5A title game was also played without a No. 1 seed after American Leadership stunned top-seeded Deer Valley High School in a 3-1 semifinal victory. In fact, the top four seeds failed to make it to the final match.
That left the No. 5 seed from Queen Creek to match up with the No. 7 seed, Higley.
They might not have been given high seeds, but Higley and ALA provided a full gymnasium of enthusiastic fans at Mesquite High School in Gilbert the kind of match expected in a state final. A five-set thriller led to the first boys’ volleyball title in Higley’s history.
Higley won the first and third sets, while ALA answered by taking the second and fourth to force a fifth set. And Higley took no chances of the title slipping away in that final set, stepping out to an early 8-4 lead and then keeping the Patriots at arm’s length the rest of the way for a 25-19, 21-25, 25-21, 18-25, 15-9 victory.
It was senior Dreyson Cattani that took on the task of providing the power at the net, leading the way for the Knights with 16 kills.