Xavier Prep won the very first beach volleyball state championship when the sport was added at a small group of Arizona high schools, back in 2012.
And then kept on winning titles. Six straight big-school titles, to be exact.
Last season, the Gators were beaten by Perry High School in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. It appeared they had finally come to the end of the road. Perry went on to become the first state champion in the sport that wasn’t named Xavier Prep, beating Millennium High, 4-1, in the title game.
But it wasn’t the end of the road for Xavier, an all-girls Catholic school in central Phoenix. It turned out to be just a short detour.
Xavier is back on top again after winning the D-I state championship on Thursday. The top-seeded Gators took the title back from No. 2 Perry by beating the Pumas, 3-2, at Casteel High School in Queen Creek.
The competition has increased greatly since that first season when the sport was introduced. Xavier was one of just five teams that took the plunge to add beach volleyball to its other sports programs. The next year, participation expanded to eight teams, and since then it has really taken off and the list of participating teams grew to the point where they were divided into two divisions. There are 33 schools participating this year.
In Division II, it was Fountain Hills High School that saw its attempt at stringing together championships come to an end. The Falcons fell in their quest for a three-peat, losing to Gilbert’s Mesquite High, 3-2. Fountain Hills was one of the five pioneering teams that signed on to add beach volleyball eight years ago.
Like Xavier, Mesquite was also the top seed, while Fountain Hills was seeded third. And both teams earned their No. 1 seeds by rolling through the regular season undefeated. Xavier finished 11-0 and Fountain Hills went 12-0.
There is, however, one glaring difference between the two programs. This is Mesquite’s first state title in the sport.
Mesquite, too, was one of the earliest schools to jump on the bandwagon. Head coach Carlos Frye has guided the Wildcats through six seasons and brought a title home just in time to enable a couple of graduating seniors to enjoy the reward of four years of hard work.
Jen Jacot and Layni Rodriguez began playing the sport as freshmen and this year are team captains. They are partners in the Ones Team and their play has been instrumental in the Wildcats blazing through this year’s schedule, culminating in the final victory of their high school careers to cap the win in the title game.
Xavier also used a pair of seniors on its Ones Team to put the finishing touch on their championship match. Perry won the threes and fours pairs and Xavier took the twos and fives matches. That left the Gators’ ones pair of Shannon Shields and Trinity Cavanaugh to wrap up the win.
Perry’s senior tandem of Erin Meyers and Noelle Weintraub won the first set, 21-18, but lost the second, 21-17. But Shields and Cavanaugh came out firing in the third set and wasted no time in putting away the win, 15-8.
Arizona was the first state in the nation to test the idea of beach volleyball at the high school level and the Arizona Interscholastic Association sanctioned it as a varsity sport in November of 2012.
The idea behind the addition of beach volleyball at the high school level was to add a sport that was a low-cost commitment for the schools that would provide an additional opportunity for girls to get involved in athletics before moving on to college.
But an even greater benefit has resulted. After the high schools took up the sport, three of the state’s major universities —Arizona State, University of Arizona, and Grand Canyon University — followed suit and now provide additional scholarship opportunities that weren’t there eight years ago.