In a meeting of volleyball royalty, last year’s state runners-up looked as if they are ready to reclaim their throne.
No. 5 Xavier – which has won five of the last eight big-school state championships – used an opportunistic attack and superior net play to reach the final four of Division I girls’ volleyball with a straight-set win over host-Gilbert, 25-19, 25-22, 25-22 on Thursday in the state tournament quarterfinals.
“We have been working a lot on adapting immediately,” said Xavier senior hitter Mia Teilborg. “Because we have had some struggles and getting stuck in rotations and that was a big thing for us (Thursday). Once we lost a point or two we changed it right away, we ran a different play, we adjusted to the block and we were able to score.”
The win sets up a rematch of last year’s title match between Xavier (31-7) and No. 1 Horizon on Saturday in the final state tournament semifinal of the day (6 p.m.) at Mesquite High School.
No. 2 Hamilton and No. 3 Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor meet in the first Division I semifinal at Mesquite H.S. (4 p.m.) after the Division II semifinals doubleheader.
“We’ve been neck-and-neck with them every time, we know those girls, they’re ready to fight, we’re ready to fight,” Teilborg said. “Hopefully we can come out with a win.”
For the fourth-seeded Tigers (32-8), Xavier presented plenty of problems – height, depth and experience. Gilbert stayed with the Gators much of the night – as evidence by the scores – but made critical service errors early and the Tigers found themselves out of position late.
“Our game plan was good and I don’t know if my team could play a whole lot harder than that,” Gilbert coach Joe Hesse said. “When you play against Xavier, you can’t make more errors than them, and if you do you will get beat. I think we made a few more errors.”
Senior Angela Webb and sophomore Makenna Martin made their mark most of the night, but Xavier kept Gilbert from getting any rhythm, and the Tigers couldn’t make up ground when Xavier ran off several points.
“We spent probably more time this week on blocking and dropping the net and really working on hand placement and it paid off,” said Xavier coach Lamar Bryant. “They have big hitters so when you seal the net, the ball goes to the floor.”
Even in the final set, Gilbert had to rally before getting a 15-14 lead. Then, with Khalia Lanier (22 kills) on the net, Xavier scored four straight points to regain control. Martin served two consecutive aces for the Tigers to tie the game at 20. But Lanier’s bump along the net scored a point and then Teilborg blocked K.J. Lines for another point. Xavier setter Dani Westfall found Teilborg for a kill, and when Abby Smith put the ball away, Xavier had its victory.
“If we don’t get them out of their system offensively, they have too much,” Hesse said. “We spent a lot of time worrying about a couple of their kids, I don’t think it was one or two people that hurt us, as much as their system did.”
Gilbert and Xavier have accounted for nine state titles since 2002 and 13 since 1996. The Tigers have been eliminated in the quarterfinals a second consecutive year since winning the state championship in 2011.