The Phoenix Goldwater Volleyball Festival was more like a block party for the Phoenix Xavier Gators as they dominated the Gilbert Tigers 25-14, 25-16 to capture the tournament championship Saturday night at Barry Goldwater High School.
Senior Brianna DeBrock led the Gator attack with eight kills and four blocks while junior outside hitter Julia Bonadio added four kills, a block and two aces to power the offense. Setter Stephanie Preach played a critical role in getting the offense going and got the Gators in gear.
’“She’s a physical presence and a free spirit, but we’ve been waiting for a while for her to have a big game,” Gators coach Tim McHale said about DeBrock. “What’s funny is when they do come they are always in the biggest matches. She’s always there in big matches."
In the first game, Gilbert (19-11) got off to a fast start, seizing a 6-2 edge thanks to three blocks and a kill from Tigers middle blocker Christina Darras.
Xavier (24-2) went on a run of its own to offset the Tigers’ fast start and caught up with them at 7-7. The teams went back and forth until it was 10-9 and Xavier started a bigger run.
The Gators scored the next six points with strong play at the net and unforced Gilbert errors. The Tigers’ inconsistency in passing put them in bad positions and DeBrock gobbled up a couple of loose balls at the net, slamming them down for Gator points.
After the Gators opened a seven-point lead, Gilbert tried to get back into it but couldn’t get any closer than five points and dropped the first game.
“It’s a good tournament for us. We made some strides to improve and were finally healthy,” Gilbert coach Joe Hesse said. “I don’t know if too many teams expected us to make the finals given what we’ve done this year.”
The second game started out tighter and had the makings of a back-and-forth affair. The Tigers hung with the Gators and were tied at 6 when the mistakes started creeping back into Gilbert’s game.
A pair of net violations and a couple of balls hit out of bounds helped the Gators run off seven straight points and take a 13-6 lead in the second game. DeBrock took over at the net and kept the Tigers at bay while the Gators opened up a 19-9 lead.
“I think we got beat. They have the best players and they dictated the whole tempo of that match,” Hesse said “I don’t know if we were ever in it. They served us off the court.
While Gilbert showed resiliency and kept battling back, the hole was just too deep to get out of and the Gators took the championship in a sweep.
"I think they're always a couple teams in the conversation and were back in the conversation," Hesse said, "Everything goes through Xavier and well take being in the conversation."
It wasn't all domination for the Gators as they nearly missed out on the championship. In the semifinals, they battled the Corona del Sol Aztecs in a three-set nail-biter. The Gators squeaked out the first game 28-26 but were hammered 25-8 in the Game 2. The decisive game went past the standard 15 points, but the Gators outlasted the Aztecs 19-17 to get to the finals.
“I have to go back to semifinals because Corona was taking it to us and I had to empty the bench trying to find something that would work,” McHale said. “You can call it a miracle, if you will. We were down big but the little guys coming off the bench did it for us.”
In earlier pool play, Xavier swept through Northwest Christian 25-6, 25-16. It took three sets to have them elude Cactus 17-25, 28-26, 15-10, but the Gators fell against Desert Vista 25-17, 23-25, 14-16. Desert Vista has handed Xavier both of its losses this season.
Gilbert got to the finals by beating Sandra Day O’Connor 21-25, 25-15, 15-9 and swept Boulder Creek 25-17, 25-12 before falling to Corona del Sol 17-25, 17-25 to wrap up pool play.
Despite taking the championship trophy back home, the Gators are still focused on the bigger prize.
“It was a great tournament and a success for us but not what we want in the long run,” DeBrock said.
“We’re connecting better as a team and are more mentally into it, but we’re still nowhere near as good as we should be, but we’re getting there.”
In the third-place match, Desert Vista outlasted Corona del Sol 25-21, 25-21.