With the magical Gilbert run to the state championship now a memory, the 2012 season is already shaping up to be a wide-open affair in the final month of the regular season before the state tournaments begin Oct. 30 (Division I and II), Nov. 1 (Division IV) and Nov. 2 (Division III and V).
Horizon has already made its statement as the class of 2012 with an impressive showing in a national tournament and several returning players from last year’s runner-up finish to Gilbert.
Leading the Huskies is senior Nikki Hess, a four-year starter, who was part of Horizon’s back-to-back state titles in the old 5A Division II classification. Senior setter Marinda Killeen has a year under her belt at the key position and can spread the ball to several weapons for Horizon.
The Huskies finished fifth in the loaded Durango Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas and was ranked 15th nationally by MaxPreps.com. Horizon also beat Desert Vista in the Westwood Tournament of Champions earlier this month.
“We have athletic, tall players who will be aggressive on both sides of the net,” Horizon coach Val McKenzie said. “If we can maintain the work ethic demonstrated in the past, this group should progress to once again be a contender in November.”
Although Gilbert lost a big hitter and 2011 Tribune Player of the Year in Macey Gardner – already off to a great start at Arizona State this fall – the Tigers seem to found their stride and could make another run. Hamilton came out on top in the AIA’s first power ranking of the season while perennial power Xavier is lurking with Desert Vista and Pinnacle.
In Division II, Arcadia has a trio of college-bound players that have the Titans in position to return to the state championship match. Outside hitter Izzy Miller – headed to Boise State – and setter Stacey Benton, a Dartmouth commit, lead Arcadia. The Titans already have a tournament win this season and figure to chase Phoenix Sunnyslope as it did a year ago, losing in straight sets to the Vikings in the finale.
Notre Dame figures to be in the mix by late October and Cactus Shadows has a new coach,
Michelle Gardiner, but a solid defense led by libero Abby Slack and middle blocker Carly Lenzen. The Saints were No. 1 in the first power ranking of the season.
In Division III, Seton is again among the top teams. The Sentinels have won four straight state titles in different classifications. Watch out for Campo Verde, which was ranked fourth in the first power rankings of the season.
Junior outside hitter Kaitlin Shroll leads Tempe Prep in Division IV. Veritas Prep, whose campus has moved to east Phoenix, looks to repeat as Division V champions.
Division I: Horizon, Gilbert, Hamilton, Xavier, Desert Vista.
Division II: Arcadia, Notre Dame, Cactus Shadows,
Division III: Seton, Campo Verde, Higley
Division IV: Tempe Prep, Valley Christian, Scottsdale Christian
Division V: Veritas Prep
Players to Watch
Kelcee Munk, Mesa, senior, setter – MVP of Chandler Wolf Classic earlier this month
Nikki Hess, Horizon, senior, outside hitter – has played in three state title matches
Izzy Miller, Arcadia, senior, outside hitter – committed to Boise State
Klohe Harrion, Perry, senior, middle blocker – committed to San Angelo State
Abby Slack, Cactus Shadows, senior, libero – best ball control player for Division II title contenders
Other players to watch
Gloria Tukuafu, Mesa, junior, libero
Kaitlin Shroll, Tempe Prep, junior, outside hitter
Marissa Rich, Tempe Prep, senior, middle blocker
Marinda Killeen, Horizon, senior, setter
Jensen Cunningham, Horizon, junior, middle blocker
Stacey Benton, Arcadia, senior, setter
Jensen Barton, Arcadia, senior, setter
Alicia Heilner, Mesquite, sophomore, setter
Emma Bergeson, Mesquite, senior, middle blocker
Kahealani Hiapo, Highland, senior, setter
Bailee Little, Highland, senior, middle blocker
Kasey Kiefer, Corona del Sol, senior, outside hitter
Dani Sullivan, Corona del Sol, freshman, outside hitter
Brittany Thomas, Hamilton, senior, outside hitter
Alexa Saba, Hamilton, senior, libero
Kelly Aholt, Scottsdale Christian, junior, setter
Sierra Bauder, Scottsdale Christian, sophomore, middle blocker
Mia Riccolo, Skyline, sophomore, outside hitter
Danielle Moll, Chandler, junior, setter
Gionni Brown, Chandler, sophomore, libero
Sam Gelfan, Dobson, junior, middle blocker
Did you know?
--Defending state champion Gilbert had won two state titles in the 2000s but hadn’t reached the title match since 2006 before last year’s win.
--The Tigers’ win in 2011 snapped a four-year run at the top by Xavier, which has won 10 titles since 1996.
--Seton Catholic has been in a title match (in different classifications) for seven consecutive years, winning six times. The Sentinels did not lose a set in last year’s tournament, which is four matches conducted over two days.
--The National Federation of State High School Associations is further defining the uniform rule for the libero to ensure their uniforms are distinct from the rest of the team. The rule will go into effect in 2016.