The Division I girls volleyball landscape has been dotted with dynasties ever since its inception.
Tucson Sahuaro was the first, winning three state titles and five in an eight-year span in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Phoenix Camelback followed with four championships in five years, Marcos de Niza went back-to-back and then Xavier won four straight in the 1990s and again in the 2000s.
Now up? Horizon.
The Huskies began their run with a pair of state championships in Division II in 2009 and 2010 and haven’t missed a beat since ascending to the biggest classification. Horizon lost in the finals to Gilbert in 2011 and won last year over Xavier.
This season, they’re big-time favorites to repeat behind five Division I-bound seniors and unparalleled depth. In fact, winning the state title might only be the tip of the iceberg, as the Huskies are ranked No. 3 nationally by Maxpreps and will play in a pair of national tournaments to test their mettle.
Usual suspects like Xavier and Gilbert should be contenders, but the title in Division I goes through Horizon.
In Division II, Queen Creek and Campo Verde will look to build on solid seasons in 2012, while Seton Catholic should be among the top teams in Division III. Scottsdale Christian, Valley Christian, Tempe Prep and Chandler Prep are among the small-school teams to watch.
Teams to watch
Horizon: The Huskies are the defending champions and boast five players committed to Division I colleges. Even though several impact seniors must be replaced, the team could be even better than last year. Horizon is a heavy favorite to repeat as state champions.
Xavier: The Gators are always among the best teams in Division I and are just two years removed from four consecutive state titles. They figure to be the chief challenger to Horizon in Division I behind Khalia Lanier and Mia Teilborg.
Gilbert: The Tigers are a perennial power and started off strong by winning the House of Payne Invitational title on Saturday, beating Corona del Sol in the finals. Gilbert made the quarterfinals a year ago and will be in that elite tier once again.
Hamilton: The Huskies made it to the state semifinals last season but lose star Brittany Thomas to graduation and setter Roxanne Lake to transfer. However, Hamilton did add outside hitter McKenna Woodford and has the type of program which always produces quality players.
Desert Vista: The Thunder was a state quarterfinal participant and should at least duplicate that behind standout senior middle blocker Vanessa Wesley and talented junior libero Lex Glover. Coach Molly West likes the overall athletic ability of this year’s group.
Corona del Sol: The Aztecs are young but have talent. They made the championship match of the House of Payne Invitational before losing to Gilbert, and that experience could bode well as the season moves forward.
Seton Catholic: The Sentinels made it to last year’s Division III semifinals and return star junior outside hitter Reggie VanDevender. Seton won the 2011 championship and should be in the mix again.
Campo Verde: The Coyotes surprised many last year by finishing as the top seed heading into the Division III state tournament. The run ended with a five-set loss to Safford in the quarterfinals, but Campo Verde has some key personnel returning for another run.
Tempe Prep: The Knights made the state quarterfinals a year ago, and with Kaitlin Shroll leading the way, should be able to make another run. Much depends on the progress of the team’s young players.
Scottsdale Christian: The Eagles were upset in last year’s quarterfinals but hope to rebound with a better postseason showing this season. Star outside hitter Sierra Bauder is back to lead the way.
Ten players to watch
Tess Clark, Sr., MB, Horizon: Clark led the team in kill percentage last season and returns as one of the team’s wide variety of weapons. She is a four-year starter and very versatile. Clark is committed to play for Louisville next year.
Jensen Cunningham, Sr., OH/MB, Horizon: Cunningham is a dominant force near the net, as her 6-foot-4 frame is an imposing sight. She’s committed to San Diego State but will wreak havoc on the high school scene for one more year before moving on.
Jasmine Hanna, Sr., OH, Queen Creek: Hanna was very impressive in 2012, amassing 324 kills, and returns to lead a Queen Creek team which should improve on last season’s first-round Division II state tournament exit.
Khalia Lanier, So., OH, Xavier: Lanier burst onto the scene as a freshman phenom last year, finishing second on the team with 333 kills with a 44.9 percent hit percentage. She should be even better now with a year of experience under her belt.
Siera Nobley, Sr., OH, Horizon: A first-team Division I player in 2012, Nobley returns for her fourth and final year starting on varsity for the powerhouse Huskies. The team is loaded with talent and the Boise State commit is as dangerous as anyone.
Paige Rupiper, Jr., Opp, Pinnacle: Rupiper played a supporting role to Cassie Hendricks a year ago but now takes over as the go-to hitter. She’s being recruited by several Division I colleges.
Justine Spann, So., S, Basha: Spann was named a second-team all-section performer as a freshman as she had 914 assists on the season. The Bears are looking to match or exceed last year’s state quarterfinal showing, and if they do, Spann will be a main reason why.
Reggie Van Devender, Jr., OH, Seton Catholic: Van Devender led the Sentinels in kills as a sophomore with 216, earning all-section honors. The Sentinels have high goals with her leading the way.
Vanessa Wesley, Sr., MB, Desert Vista: Wesley has been one of the better players in the East Valley since her sophomore year but had last season derailed by injury. She’s back this year to lead the Thunder. Wesley is committed to West Point.
McKenna Woodford, Jr., OH, Hamilton: Woodford transferred in from Sedona Red Rock, where she was the Division IV Player of the Year as a sophomore when she led the team to the state title. The competition stiffens in Division I but she is still a key piece.
Others to watch
Arcadia: Abby Schneider, Sr., MB; Katy Tolson, Fr., L; Basha: Alexa Johnson, Jr, MB; Yasamin Motlagh, Jr, OH; Campo Verde: Jessi Lammers, Sr., S; Haley Christiansen; Chandler: Danielle Moll, Sr., S; Gionni Brown, Jr., L; Chandler Prep: Cassie Guidice, Sr., MB; Chaparral: Madalyn Roh, Jr., S; Lauren Stivrins, So., OH; Corona del Sol: Danielle Sullivan, So., OH; Desert Mountain: Piper Heineck, Sr., MB; Desert Ridge: Alexis Miller, Sr., S; Jessica Young, Sr., OH; Desert Vista: Lexi Glover, Jr, L; Hailey Harward, So., OH; Dobson: Sam Gelfan, Sr., MB; Dakota Philo, Sr., S; Gilbert: Heather Ball, Sr., MB; Angela Webb, Sr., MB; Kaylee Panepinto, Sr., L; Kameryn Hill, So., L; Hamilton: Olivia Hallaran, So., OH; Shelby Babcock, Sr., L; Highland: Ally Eylers, So., OH; Daeleigh Castille, Sr., MB; Higley: Sydney Martindale, Jr., OH; Kayla Newman, Jr., OH; Horizon: Roxanne Lake, Jr., S; Lauren Conati, Sr., S; Christine Johnson, Sr., MB; Jordan Anderson, Jr., L; Marcos de Niza: Jorie Mayfield, Sr., OH; McClintock: Rachel Fagerburg, Sr., OH; Mesa: Paige Gardner, Sr., OH; Drea Farnsworth, Sr., MB,Gloria Tukuafu, Sr., L; Mesquite: Alicia Heilner, Jr., S; Makena Smith, So., L; Jordan Schumacher, Fr., OH; Mountain Pointe: Kendall Gray, Jr., MB; Mountain View: Ashton Schmitz, Sr., OH; Kayley Gilbert, Sr, OH; Natalie Kempton, Sr, L; Perry: Talise Babbitt, Sr., OH; Bobbi Sczruba, Sr., RS; Poston Butte: Lauren Futch, Sr., OH; Mariah Buchannan, Jr., S; Queen Creek: Jackie Garvin, Sr., OH; Sarah Horst, Sr., S; Red Mountain: Kelsey Park, Sr., S; Saguaro: Jessica Reega, Jr. MB; Bethany Wedepohl, Jr. S; Seton Catholic: Kirtsen Companik, So., MB; Nicole Kinsey., Jr., OH; Pinnacle: Sammy Onafry, Sr, L, Cassidy Trabilcy, Jr., OH; Scottsdale Christian: Sierra Bauder, Sr., OH; Kelly Aholt, Sr., Opp; Skyline: Amy Anderson, Sr., S; Tempe: Kayla Melgar, Sr., MB; Mary Morton, Sr., S; Tempe Prep: Kaitlin Shroll, Sr., OH; Taylor Shroll, So; OH; Claire Ternyik, Sr. S/RS; Valley Christian: Kendra Lorbeck, Sr., S; Westwood: Rachel O’Crowley, Sr., OH; Williams Field: Nicole Grinevich, Sr., S; Xavier: Mia Teilborg, Sr., OH; Dani Westfall, Sr., S; Morgan Harlan, Sr., S.
Sept. 12: Gilbert at Hamilton
Oct. 4-5: Gilbert Invitational
Oct. 10: Queen Creek at Seton Catholic
Oct. 18-19: Nike Tournament of Champions
Sept. 26, Oct. 16: Horizon vs. Xavier
Nov. 5: State tournaments begin
Nov. 9: Div. III, IV, V championships at Tim’s Toyota Center
Nov. 12: Div. I, II championship at Mesquite H.S.
Mann makes a move: Legendary Mountain Pointe volleyball coach Fred Mann has made the move to Perry. He led the Pride to a state championship in 2001 and a runner-up finish to Xavier in 2007. Perry has never won double-digit matches in a season but Mann will look to build the program up, and with his expertise, a quick turnaround would not be a surprise.
Basha changes coaches: The Bears were the No. 8 seed in last season Division I playoffs and made the quarterfinals before getting knocked off by eventual-champion Horizon. Jim Kann built the program into a consistent winner but left in the summer to take an athletic director position in Illinois. New coach Terri Spann played her high school volleyball at Xavier, played collegiately at Arizona State and has been an assistant at ASU and Texas Tech.
Transfers: Roxanne Lake was one of the top setters in the state for Hamilton last year. This season, she’ll be suiting up for Horizon, strengthening the Huskies’ case as the deepest team in Arizona. The Huskies lost Lake but got a transfer addition, as Sedona Red Rock star McKenna Woodford moved in.