A couple of runner-up finishes at the state volleyball finals last season may be providing motivation for strong starts to the 2021 season for both Notre Dame Prep and Perry High School.
Perry and NDP both showed they haven’t lost a step since last season, working their way to the title game in the House of Payne Invitational. The House of Payne is one of the most challenging early-season tournaments in the state and a good barometer of which teams should do well in the playoffs.
But, for Perry, the runner-up finish to Notre Dame left them once again the bridesmaid instead of the bride, a situation that is becoming all too common for the Gilbert school. Last season, Perry finished as runner-up in the 6A state championship game, while the Saints suffered a similar ending to the 4A season.
Perry entered last year’s 6A state championship game as the top seed, sporting an 18-0 record, and the favorite to win it all. But Hamilton High, the No. 2 seed, persevered through four sets to bring home the first girls’ state volleyball title in school history.
Notre Dame was also the No. 1 seed, playing for the 2020 state title, and also undefeated (17-0). But No. 2-seeded Salpointe Catholic took the title match to five sets before claiming the championship.
It was an especially frustrating loss for both schools since Perry had beaten Hamilton twice in the regular season and Notre Dame Prep had swept Salpointe, 3-0, just four weeks earlier.
And for Perry, the frustration level was even higher. That was the second straight year that the Pumas had finished runner-up for the state title, losing the year before to third-seeded Basha HS.
Notre Dame took out its frustrations by rolling through a strong field of teams in this year’s House of Payne, setting the tone for the season to come, The Saints won all seven of its matches during the two-day tourney, which was held at Chandler High School. Perry won four.
The Saints had to beat Gilbert HS a second time, this time in the semifinals, to advance to the final to meet Perry, which beat Sunnyslope HS in the semis. Sunnyslope took third place by defeating Gilbert.
Notre Dame came out strong in the first set, leading all the way before Perry tied the set at 20-20. But three kills by sophomore Evan Hendrix sealed the 25-22 win. In the second set it was Perry that led for almost the entire time and held a 24-20 edge before Hendrix again took charge, using three kills once again, combined with a Perry hitting error to tie the set at 24-24.
A couple more kills from Hendrix and a serving ace by Isa Blackwell iced the 27-25 win.
Hendrix has become an integral part of the Notre Dame attack. Last year, as a freshman, she led the Saints in the state title game loss with 19 kills. At the House of Payne championship match she contributed 22 kills to the win, which helped her earn the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
Lots of volleyball ahead this season. But it looks like Notre Dame and Perry will be in the title hunt again.