The Gilbert boys volleyball team is not the defending state champion.
But the Tigers know opponents are coming for them.
With the return of Ty Hutchins and Cody Martin — a pair of All-Tribune selections a season ago — Gilbert is the favorite to take the state championship this season. The two divisions have been narrowed to one this year, so everyone has their eye on the Tigers.
“The boys know there is a target,” Grover said. “No one’s going to want us to win, so we’ll have to fight for everything we earn. We’re by no means the best team in the state, but we’re going to have to defend that No. 1 ranking.”
Gilbert did so last weekend by capturing the Chandler Wolf Howl Invitational and will look to keep that momentum going as teams head into the meat of their power point schedule.
The Tigers may be the favorite, but there are several East Valley teams expected to be in contention. Corona del Sol beat Gilbert in pool play and lost to the Tigers in the championship match of the Wolf Howl.
Hamilton surprised many with a successful season last year and return Kevin Gorence, Taua Bader and Saige Gonsalves. Highland, Mountain Pointe, Desert Vista and Brophy have the type of structure in place to always be competitive, while an up-and-comer like Mesa will try to make some noise. Mountain View is the defending champion and looks to remain a contender after losing several key players.
Outside the East Valley, Glendale Deer Valley and Tucson Salpointe look strong, and it remains to be seen how some of the traditional 2A-4A powers like Catalina Foothills and Catalina fare in their move up.
Teams to watch
Gilbert: Early-season favorites to win state title behind Ty Hutchins and Cody Martin
Corona del Sol: Alex Davis and Jake Nuneviller return as leaders
Hamilton: Huskies surprised many last year and have Kevin Gorence and Taua Bader returning
Highland: Hawks were down last year but Vee Hiapo has built successful program
Mountain View: Defending champions have question marks following departures of POY Ryan Olsen and coach Katie Higgins
Players to watch
Taua Bader, Sr., RS, Hamilton; Nick Benson, Sr., S, Brophy; Tyler Bigler, Sr., OH, Higley; Jaron Chatwin, Sr., MB, Desert Ridge; Erik Clapp, Sr., MB, Chandler; Header Crouch, Sr., L, Basha; Alex Davis, Sr., OH, Corona del Sol; Alex Figueroa-Perez, Sr., OH, Dobson; Kyle Garr, Sr., OH, Desert Ridge; Saige Gonsalves, So., OH, Hamilton; Kevin Gorence, Sr., OH, Hamilton; Jordan Hill, Sr., OH, Marcos de Niza; Ty Hutchins Sr., OH, Gilbert; Cody Martin, Sr., S, Gilbert; Jake Nuneviller, Jr., S, Corona del Sol; Kyle Pitman Jr., S, Desert Vista; Connor Rowe, Sr., OH, Dobson; Zach Steiner Sr., L, Mesa Mountain View; Luke Tingey, Sr., OH, Westwood; Isaac Turley, Sr., OH, Highland; Mitchell Usevitch, Sr., MB, Mesquite; Tyler Wilson, Jr., OH, Williams Field; David Weaver, Sr., OH Mountain Pointe.
March 21: Brophy at Tucson Salpointe
April 5: Gilbert at Highland
April 10: Gilbert at Corona del Sol
April 13-14: Brophy Invitational
April 24: Desert Vista at Mountain Pointe
May 5: First round of state tournament
May 12: State championship match at Gilbert High School
Classification: Boys volleyball is back to only one division after being split into two (5A and 4A-2A) the past few seasons. Tucson powers Catalina and Catalina Foothills will see how well they can compete with the top programs from 5A. There will be 60 teams total fighting for one title.
Postseason doubleheader: The first and second rounds of the state tournament are played within hours of each other. The top-8 seeds get first-round byes, while the Nos. 9-24 seeds play first-round matches at the top-8 school they’re matched up with in the bracket. The first-round matches begin at noon on May 5, and the winner advances to play the top-8 and hosting school at 2:30 p.m.