State volleyball tournaments start today for Arizona high schools. But in 6A, the state’s top conference, it already looks like another re-run from years past.
Xavier Prep is seeded No. 5, but after winning the last two 6A titles, has to be considered one of the favorites. Perry High School, the top seed this year, is coming off semifinal appearances the last two years and poised to finally get to the title match. And No. 2 Corona del Sol High School is a very familiar face in the postseason since the Aztecs have played in the championship match the last three years straight, and is very motivated to finally complete the journey this year.
Not only did Perry lose in the last two semifinals, but each time they took it to five sets. They are a very determined team this year, which has helped make up for the loss of 10 seniors to graduation last year.
But two of the three returning starters were keys to an offense that led the Pumas to a 32-4-1 record last season and 31-3-1 record going into the 2019 tournament: senior outside hitters Tatum Stall and Sian Richardson.
Perry made an early statement back in mid-September when it claimed the title in the Gold Bracket at the 28th annual Westwood Tournament of Champions, beating Corona in the semifinals and then defeating Highland High, seeded No. 4 in today’s tournament, for the championship. Stall collected 13 kills in the final and was named the Most Valuable Player.
Four weeks later, Perry repeated as champion at the Birdcage Invitational, dropping just a single set over two days and eight matches.
Second-seeded Corona feels right at home in state title games. It has appeared in the last three. The Aztecs won the 2016 state championship and were runners-up the last two years. They lost just two starters from a 2018 squad that went 29-14, so that experience, and a 32-8 record, sets them up as another of the favorites to bring home another title. They’re also a team with more hitting power than last year’s squad.
Xavier (29-11) jumped out to 13 straight wins, including a victory over Corona, to start the season. The Gators, who had to mix seven newcomers with seven returning players, were fast out of the gate this season, winning the Gold Bracket title at the House of Payne Invitational during the first week of the season, losing just one set in its 10 matches. The Gold Bracket included four of the top five seeds in the state tourney; only Perry was missing.
But seven losses in Xavier’s final 12 games took some of the lustre off its earlier success, resulting in the No. 5 seeding.
The No. 3 seed went to Basha High School, which brings a deep and experienced line-up to the party and has to also be considered a top contender for the title. The Bears returned five starters from last year’s squad and have added three transfers, two from local high schools and one from California.
And Basha (22-16) has momentum coming into the playoffs. The Bears have won six out of the last seven games, including big wins over Perry and Xavier.
Basha and Corona are likely to meet up in the semifinals, while Perry will have to get past either Xavier or No. 4 Highland HS (34-9) to get a shot at dethroning reigning champ Xavier.
But however it shakes out, the final cast of characters will likely be very similar to what we’re used to seeing.