Chandler: After a 19-20 season last year, the Wolves are already halfway toward that win total this season with 9 seniors on the team and a taste of the postseason in 2012-2013. In addition to Casey at the net, the Wolves have three others at least 6-foot-3 led by Andrew McCall, Jonah Orndorff, Cory Simon and Jon Minetto.
Desert Ridge: The school doesn’t roll off the tongue as title contenders, but the Jaguars are off to a strong start with wins over Gilbert, Mountain Pointe, Hamilton and Glendale Deer Valley this season. The Jaguars might not be an elite team yet, but being in the discussion is a good step.
Gilbert: Now perennial championship contenders, the Tigers might not have any significant returners from a 35-8 season last year, but the Tigers are athletic and coachable. Versatility and leadership from kids such as Preston Johnson and junior setter Bromley Udall will be key.
Hamilton: The Huskies lost to Mesa in last year’s quarterfinals, but the Huskies are en route to “elite” status with their entire lineup back from a 29-16 team under coach Jeff Bader. Gonsalves and setter Zach Melcher will lead the way.
Highland: The defending state champions could easily be back. A 30-6 team last year, the Hawks have returning starters Sean Chapman, Jamesa Snuka and James Wallace, plus Jayce Ashment, Curtis Lunt and Riley Rogers all have varsity experience.
Mesa: One of a couple championship favorites before the Jackrabbits won the Chandler Wolf Howl Invitational. After going 39-9 last season and losing to Highland in a five-set state semifinal thriller. The Jackrabbits appear stronger with UCLA-bound Hatch, but also returns a 6-foot-8 opposite hitter in Komenda, junior libero Clark Fleming, Seth Johnson is back from a torn ACL last year, plus McKay Johnson and setter Kris Rosario.
Mountain Pointe: For the first time in more than 20 years, Mountain Pointe will be without coach Fred Mann leading the way after he moved to coach Perry’s girls squad. New coach Brian Steiner, however, was a longtime assistant and part of the Pride’s championship teams in the late 2000s. The Pride always has talent, this time it begins with 6-foot-4 Addison Henkel.
Perry: A state quarterfinalist in 2013, coach Brian Pomerantz has high expectations with junior Wyatt Veach, who comes from athletic bloodlines and is a powerful 6-foot-7 lefty hitter. But there’s more: Jalen Cross, Logan Miller and Loren McClure for the Pumas, off to a 10-win start to this season.
Red Mountain: New coach Nancy Corea (formerly Skyline's girls coach and former ASU player) has 10 returners from last year, led by Jacob Dana, Seth Veik, Levi Bunker and Bryce Gillen.
Westwood: Coach Brian Hanna has an interesting mix of newcomers in Matthew Farabee at outside hitter, who’ll likely lead team in kills along with 6-foot-6 junior Alberto Zazueta in the middle. Libero Karl Salanga is the only returning starter from a year ago.
March 28: Centennial Boys Volleyball tournament (at Centennial H.S.)
April 4-5: Brophy Invitational (at Brophy Prep)
April 25: Dobson Invitational (at Dobson H.S.)
May 10: State tournament begins (first and second rounds at TBD)
May 13: State quarterfinals (at higher seed)
May 15: State semifinals (5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Mesquite High School)
May 17: State championship (7 p.m. at Mesquite H.S.)
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.