Division I volleyball state championship
Who: No. 1 Horizon vs. No. 3 Xavier
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Mesquite High School (500 S. McQueen Road, Gilbert)
Previous meetings: Horizon 2, Xavier 0 (Sept. 8); Horizon 3, Xavier 1 (Sept. 11); Horizon 3, Xavier 0 (Oct. 4); Xavier 2, Horizon 1 (Oct. 6)
Players to watch: Horizon: Tess Clark, Jr., OH; Jensen Cunningham, Jr., MB; Nikki Hess, Sr., OH; Marinda Killeen, Sr., S; Sierra Nobley, Jr., OH; Xavier: Amanda Benson, Sr., L; Morgan Harlan, Jr., MB; Khalia Lanier, Fr., OH/OPP; Megan O'Sullivan, Sr., MB; Mia Teilborg, Jr., OH;
Outlook: Besides having two of the best programs and coaches in the state (if not the best), it's a night of unfinished business. Xavier coach Tim McHale is trying to go out on a high note, as he's retiring after 25 years as a high school volleyball coach (a decade as Xavier's coach), and five state championship since he's been in charge of the Gators. Meanwhile, Horizon, which has been the title favorite since late August, would like to compensate itself for last year's state championship match loss to Gilbert. The two schools met four times during the regular season, but two of those were in tournaments and Xavier's win against Horizon this season came when the Huskies didn't have leading hitter Nikki Hess. Still, the Gators are the only Arizona school this season to beat Horizon, and to do so again will require Xavier's defense to play the match of the season. Fortunately for the Gators, that plays into their strength, and they showed guts in their comeback victory against Hamilton in the semifinals. Horizon's hitters might be the best in the state, but the Gators didn't allow Hamilton to succeed in hitting either. If Xavier defends as well or better than it has all season, the Gators have a good chance. If Horizon doesn't make mistakes and stays patient when Xavier counters, the Huskies should win
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.