It’s a new year, but that doesn’t mean there will be a new crop of favorites as the 2009 high school volleyball season begins in Arizona. The programs that were the strongest in 2008 will likely be strong again, with precious little room for the up-and-comers.
“It’s the usual suspects,” said Tim McHale, coach of two-time defending 5A-I champion Phoenix Xavier. “It seems the same teams are going to be very good again this year.”
Those usual suspects in 5A-I are Xavier, Phoenix Desert Vista, Tempe Corona del Sol and Gilbert. At least one of these four programs has been in the state championship match every year since 1996.
Another state champion from a year ago, Chandler Seton Catholic, is a clear front-runner in 4A-II, but will get a challenge from Scottsdale Notre Dame, which joins Seton in the East Sky Region.
Chandler Valley Christian, led by do-everything senior Chanel Brown, is poised to reach its first 2A state title match since 2000 after getting upset in the semifinals a year ago.
In 4A-I, champion Phoenix Sunnyslope went 37-2 and returns all of its starters, making it a real contender for the best team in the state, regardless of class.
The only real wide-open conference is 5A-II, where Glendale Deer Valley, Peoria Centennial and Scottsdale Chaparral, moving up from 4A-I, are the leading contenders.
Did you know?
Life’s a beach: Desert Vista’s Betsi Metter and her partner, 2008 Desert Vista graduate and current Northern Arizona freshman Anna Gott, won the 18-and-under Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Junior Beach Volleyball national championship in July. They were the first Arizona team to win a championship in the 16 years the event has been held at Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Meeting Mr. Heisman: In her official visit to the University of Florida, Valley Christian’s Chanel Brown had a meet-and-greet with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Brown committed to play for the Gators during her visit.
Power regions: Realignment created some interesting region pairings. In 5A-I, Desert Vista got placed with Xavier in the Central, while the East Valley pits Corona del Sol, Gilbert and Mountain View. In 4A-II, Notre Dame and Seton will see plenty of each other in the East Sky Region.
Five players to watch
Betsi Metter, Sr., OH, Desert Vista: Showed she belongs on the same court as the best prep players in the country over the summer; teams will have a hard time slowing her down.
Stephanie Preach, Sr., S, Xavier: Last year’s Tribune 5A player of the year is a year older, wiser and ready to guide the Gators to a second straight title.
Chanel Brown, Sr., OH, Valley Christian: Bound for the University of Florida as a setter, but she will spend her final prep season all over the floor.
Haley Lawless, So., OH, Seton Catholic: Was big force behind Sentinels’ state title last year; another year of maturity means she’ll only get better this season.
Cassie Ronda, Sr., OH, Corona del Sol: Imposing player will be the focal point of a young team, but she enters the season a bit hurt.
Other players to watch
Apache Junction: Diana Woodruff, Sr., libero; Jessica Iniguez, Sr., MB.
Arcadia: Lilli Fischer, Sr., S; Sonya Bray, Jr., MB.
Basha: Kehaulaniokala Baker, Soph., S; Mikalie Averett, Sr., OH.
Chaparral: Jane Steffens, Jr., S; Abbey Kleinsmith, Sr., MB.
Corona del Sol: Bethany Jorgensen, Sr., OH; Katherine Gatz, Sr., MB.
Desert Vista: Kyle Hartman, Sr., MB; McKella Williams, Jr., OH; Erika White, Jr., libero.
Dobson: Delia Vasquez, Jr., OH.
Gilbert: Macey Gardner, Soph., OH; Sarah Beene, Soph., S; Alyssa Dwyer, Sr., MB.
Gilbert Christian: Cassandra Hool, Sr., OH.
Hamilton: Stephanie Bickford, Sr., OH; Ashli Bellinger, Jr., OH.
Higley: Dominique Lewis, Jr., OH.
Horizon: Sarah McGaffin, Sr., S; Tori Thielen, Sr., libero.
Horizon Honors: Melissa New, Sr., OH.
Marcos de Niza: Emily Eswonia, Jr., OH.
Mesa: Heidi Brinton, Sr., OH.
Mountain Pointe: Caitlin Lentz, Sr., S; Kristin Stephan, Sr., MB.
Mountain View: Mackenzie Skousen, Soph., OH; Mariana Salazar, Sr., OH.
Pinnacle: Morgan Richardson, Jr., S; Emily Allen, Sr., OH.
Saguaro: Cassie Cockhren, Sr., OH.
Valley Christian: Kristen Johannsen, Sr., MB; Tori Gentry, Sr., S.
Xavier: Katarina Schulz, Soph., Opp.; Julia Bonadio, Sr., OH.
Sept. 1: Xavier at Corona del Sol — two of the state’s best open up season against each other.
Sept. 11-12: Westwood Tournament of Champions
Sept. 16-18: Chandler Nike Tournament
Oct. 8: Desert Vista at Xavier — the first of two regular-season matches for these two Fiesta Region heavyweights.
Oct. 9-10: Goldwater Volleyball Festival
Oct. 23-24: Highland Tournament of Champions
Week of Nov. 9: State tournament play begins.
1. Xavier: Still loaded with talent and still the champs until someone steps up and takes its crown.
2. Desert Vista: Five starters return for the 2008 runner-up; if the setter position is solid, the Thunder will be in the finals again.
3. Gilbert: If coach Joe Hesse’s youngsters mature quickly, Tigers will be a team no one will want to face in November.
4. Corona del Sol: Imposing front line makes the Aztecs a team that can beat anyone on any night.
5. Basha: Bears were young last year and with another year of growth could be a program that threatens to break up the fab four.
1. Desert Mountain: Moves down from 5A-I and brings eight returning varsity players with it.
2. Centennial: Defending champs have a roster full of seniors, led by Brook Pottle.
3. Deer Valley: Majority of roster that reached 5A-II championship match is back.
4. Ironwood Ridge: Nighthawks ready to take next step and challenge for a title with majority of roster back.
5. Chaparral: Firebirds are young but have always been a contender in 4A-I. Not much should change as they move to 5A-II.
1. Sunnyslope: Lost one set in state tournament and have all six starters back. Unlikely anyone in 4A-I will challenge Vikings.
2. Cienega: Jacquie Cason is one of the top players in the state.
3. Saguaro: Sabercats have experience at the outside hitter position but are young everywhere else.
4. Catalina Foothills: Falcons were led by juniors last year and will have experience all over the floor.
5. Cactus Shadows: A program that just seems to find its way into the mix each season.
1. Seton Catholic: As a freshman, Hayley Lawless was a dominant force. How good will she be now that she’s a sophomore?
2. Cactus: Reached championship match in 4A-I a year ago and could do the same this year in 4A-II.
3. Notre Dame: Slugging it out in region play against Seton should toughen up the Saints in time for state tournament.
4. Amphitheater: Panthers have enough back from team that reached title game to make another run this season.
5. Arcadia: Setter Lilli Fischer returns to lead a new bunch of hitters.
1. Monument Valley
3. Window Rock
4. Tuba City
5. Sedona Red Rock
1. Valley Christian
3. Northwest Christian
4. Red Mesa
5. Horizon Honors
1. Veritas Prep
2. Gilbert Christian
3. St. David
5. Joseph City