When Desert Vista coach Ryan Tolman and Brophy coach Tony Oldani looked at the Division I boys volleyball bracket before Tuesday’s match they came to an agreement.
“If any of those eight teams (remaining) won state no one would be surprised,” Oldani said. “Those are eight very good teams. Anyone one of us could win state.
Not Tuesday night.
Not in that gym.
Not with the way sixth-seeded Brophy has been playing over the last few weeks. As much as No. 14 Desert Vista has come together in recent weeks, the Broncos are at another level.
That was pretty clear throughout the match as host Brophy won 25-11, 25-14 and 25-18 to advance to Thursday’s state semifinals against No. 10 Highland at Gilbert High.
“We didn’t handle (the atmosphere) very well,” Tolman said. “We knew we had to play really well to be in it and we didn’t do that.”
The Thunder (19-16) had trouble receiving, had way too many unforced errors and had some ill-timed bad serves to kill momentum in aiding Brophy’s cause, but they could have played their best match and still not come out on top in this one.
The Broncos (30-7) had a soft regular season schedule and had lineup changes due to an injury to middle blocker Ryan Dowd, but right now everything is flowing for the Broncos.
Senior outside hitter Nick Benson, a NYU recruit, has a thunderous swing, Dowd is a strong presence, junior middle blocker Adam Lincoln has flourished since recently making the starting lineup and freshman Ryan Benson packs a wallop from his left-handed swing.
“We’ve really started playing our best volleyball recently,” the older Benson said. “Dowd came back and some other guys stepped up. This is my last year and we never made it past the quarterfinals. I want to go out with a bang.”
The Thunder had some momentum in Game 2 and Game 3, but couldn’t sustain it. Desert Vista led 9-2, 12-6 and 14-8 in the third game, but Brophy came all the way back as Benson led the charge with five straight scoring serves to break open a 16-all tie to go up 21-16.
He had four aces and five kills in the deciding game and 13 overall kills, while Lincoln backed him with seven kills.
“They have power all over the place,” Tolman said. “Most teams have two or three guys who can really swing it, but they have four or five.”
Desert Vista should be better off because of the nice little run to the quarterfinals as the Thunder lose only a handful of seniors, including Marshall Rooney.
“We didn’t play like we can and barely gave ourselves a chance,” he said. “We’d play good in spurts but we couldn’t keep the momentum going.”