Xavier overcame plenty just to reach the state Division I volleyball championship match.
The fifth-seeded Gators had to go on the road to beat No. 4 Gilbert in the quarterfinals and then faced No. 1 Horizon in the semifinal just to get to Tuesday night’s championship meeting with Hamilton. Xavier beat Horizon for the first time four tries this season on Saturday.
Then in the state final at Mesquite High School, the second-ranked Huskies took a 2-1 lead over the Gators with their many young weapons.
“At the start of game four, we all met in the huddle and we said, ‘We have six seniors on this team, we’ve been in this position three out of our four years in high school and we want this more,'” said Xavier outside hitter Mia Teilborg, holding the state championship trophy.
The Gators (33-7) rallied for a dominating 25-10 win in game four and then with the powerful Khalia Lanier putting away eight kills, beat Hamilton 15-8 in the deciding set to win its first title since 2010 and its sixth title in the last nine years.
“Even the game we won, we still had a ton of errors,” said Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant. “So our thing all year was staying efficient and in game four we were super efficient.”
Bryant praised her seniors.
“It’s just the will the win and making sure they are training into the right spot and they were disciplined. Games four and five we were super disciplined and that’s what the score reflected.”
It was almost a repeat of that 2010 final with Hamilton losing in five games after taking a 2-1 lead. That was the only other appearance in the final for the Huskies.
Hamilton (37-6) started two freshmen and a sophomore, but freshman setter Sydney Lostumo spread the ball around to 6-foot-2 freshman Preslie Anderson, 6-3 junior McKenna Woodford and sophomore Olivia Hallaran.
It wasn’t until the Lanier turned it on late, getting 12 kills in the final two sets.
“She is just unstoppable,” Teilborg said of Lanier. “She was tipping a little at the beginning and I said, ‘We are not going to end this state championship tipping. I have your back, I will be there to cover you, you swing away and let’s win this championship.’”
Bryant and Lanier herself acknowledged that she was a bit tentative early when the teams split the first two sets.
“Game five was game on,” Bryant said. “This was, to me, game five was the break out of the Khalia Lanier Show. She was ready. You could see earlier in the match she was a little bit nervous but game five all bets were off. We were here to win and she was here to show up, we rode her all the way through.”
After the opening set split, in game three, Hamilton went on a six-point run, taking advantage of Xavier unforced errors to take a 17-12 lead and then held on for a 25-23 win on Woodford’s kill and seemingly put Hamilton in the driver’s seat.
On the other hand...
“Not with Xavier playing,” Vanis said. “Khalila was a quiet giant the first two games and Mia was taking of the game and all of sudden he comes Khalia. You knew it was going to happen, it was just a matter of time and our youth showed.”
Anderson admitted Hamilton lost all of its momentum after that game four rout and then Xavier put their attack on in the final set.
“It’s really hard,” Anderson said. “Khalia is a great hitter and I respect her a lot … it’s really hard to stop someone that good.”
Lanier helped Xavier jump out early, getting two big hits in the first four points and the Gators never looked back.
Hamilton had a 5-3 lead with Hallaran and Tianna Matthews getting points for the Huskies. Then, Gator setter Dani Westfall started going to Lanier on the left side.
She put away four straight points and had eight kills total in the set. And when Hamilton tried to block her, Teilborg came to the rescue. Westfall found Molly Scheel for the penultimate point and Teilborg got the match winner.
“It’s so amazing to come this far with this team and get a trophy like that,” said Lanier, a 6-foot-2 sophomore. “Before the game one of my personal goals was playing every point for my team. I think in the beginning four games, I was playing timid and wasn’t taking into consideration how other girls are working hard and I should be doing the same thing. I want out there in the fifth game and let it all out. I rather lose playing my best than lose playing timid.”
Hamilton lost to Xavier in five games a year ago in the semifinals, again losing a 2-1 lead, and also lost to the Gators in 2009 – having reached the final four in four of the last five seasons.