It took about a half-game for No. 2 Xavier to get in gear but the Gators' quest for a fifth straight state title is on track after crusing to a first-round win the Division I volleyball tournament on Tuesday.
"Yeah, we were a little pumped and a little skittish," said senior outside hitter Abby Hornacek. "But once we settled down we got the hang of it."
Even Gators coach Tim McHale admitted that he may have gotten his team a little too keyed up for the tournament opener. But once the Gators "got the hang of it," setter Bianca Arellano spread the ball to Hornacek, Mia Teilborg and others as Xavier completed a 25-19, 25-14, 25-18, win over No. 15 Mountain View on Tuesday.
Xavier hosts Tucson Rincon - a straight-set winner over Yuma Kofa in the first round - in Thursday's quarterfinals.
"There are always nerves," McHale said. "The key thing is Mountain View is a great team, it's tough to see such a good team early but that's the draw. They settled down and now we'll see what happens."
The Gators have won four consecutive championships at the state's highest classification but possibly looming in the semifinals is third-seeded Gilbert, which took Xavier to five games in the regular season finale Oct. 20. Monday's championship match could be a rematch with Horizon, seeded fourth in the bracket but the only team to beat Xavier in a power-point match this season.
"We map out what could happen but we try to only take it one match at a time," McHale said. "Anytime you look past a team like Mountain View or the winner of that next match, you are setting yourself up for failure."
Mountain View started well as the Toros stayed with the powerful Gators for much of the first set. The Toros only trailed 15-13 before Xavier pulled away. In that first game, setter Paige Tingey (31 assists) found some success getting the ball to middle Kami Johnson but a superior defensive game kept Mountain View in neutral.
"That is kind of our trademark," said Toros coach Stacie Powell. "The thing about Xavier is they just make you earn it. You can't make a lot of unforced errors. They really wear you down in a sense. You have to play near perfect if you are going to beat them."
Xavier took control quickly in the second game, although Milani Pickering (10 kills) started getting into the Mountain View offense. Mackenzie Skousen had 12 kills and Morgan Carman 15 digs for Mountain View.
But Arellano and Hornacek switched a bit at setter, and it allowed the Gators to spread the wealth and find open spots in the Toro defense. Hornacek did it all - nine kills, 13 assists and two aces - while Teilborg added 12 kills and libero Amanda Benson had 12 digs.
"Obviously, Abby is one of the go-to girls," said Arellano, who had 31 assists. "Especially on the right side if you are keeping everything in front and establishing the middle, then Abby is an easy kill right down the line."
Again, Mountain View stayed close, trailing just 14-11, at one point.