Arizona high schools are still trying to return to the top of the Nike Tournament of Champions, the girls’ volleyball tournament generally regarded as the event to determine a de facto national champion.
The last, and only, Arizona team to win the title in the Platinum bracket of the Nike, played last weekend in the Valley, is Xavier Prep. The Gators, in fact, won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014 when ‘6’2″ outside hitter Khalia Lanier was a dominant force in the Xavier offense.
The Platinum bracket is the top bracket in the tourney that attracts top teams from all across the country, filled by those teams that advance through pool play to earn the right to compete at the top level of the annual event.
In 2016, Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School came close to bringing home the top prize, but had to settle for a second-place Platinum finish after getting beat in the championship match.
This year’s title match featured a couple of California teams, with Marymount High beating Mater Dei High. But there were three Arizona teams playing in the 8-team Platinum bracket, the first time since 2015 that the state has been that well represented. And two of them finished in the top 10 of that elite bracket.
That trio included Millennium HS, Horizon HS, and Xavier Prep.
Millenium defeated Nevada’s Bishop Gorman High School in its final game, 26-24, 25-18, to claim third place, while Xavier closed out the tourney by beating Oregon’s Jesuit High in a come-from-behind, three-set thriller (20-25, 25-18, 15-12) to take seventh place.
Overall, it was a good year for Arizona, which entered 32 of the 96 teams that participated in the two-day event spread over four sites in Phoenix, Tempe, and Chandler. The Arizona entrants included three defending state champions: Xavier (6A), Sunnyslope High (5A), and Scottsdale Christian Academy (2A).
SCA beat teams from Utah and California before losing in the Gold bracket title match to Oviedo HS from Florida. Sunnyslope played Bishop O’Dowd (Calif.) for fifth place in the Silver division, but lost in straight sets.
While there was no Platinum trophy this year, local schools did win five bracket titles: Hamilton HS (Silver Bracket), Mountain Pointe (Bronze), Pinnacle HS (Diamond), Notre Dame Prep (Sapphire), and Valley Christian (Pearl). In two of those brackets, local teams fought it out in the championship games. Pinnacle had to defeat Chaparral High for the Diamond crown and Notre Dame Prep beat Ironwood Ridge High School in the Sapphire title game.
The TOC, which began in Arizona, just wrapped up its 10th year and continues to draw top teams to the state. This year, teams from seven states showed up to give Arizona schools a chance to stay home and still compete on a national stage.
Since Xavier drew national attention to the state with two consecutive TOC wins, there have been other schools stepping up to take on the challenge of becoming Platinum winners.
And, based on this year’s results, that next big win may not be far off.