Cameron Dudley had a great view from the bench last year when the Gilbert boys volleyball team won the state title.
The Tigers are making another run, and this time he's right in the middle of the action.
Like several teammates, Dudley has gone from benchwarmer to key starter, and his opportune kills and blocks were instrumental in No. 4 Gilbert’s 25-23, 28-26, 16-25, 27-25 victory over No. 5 Brophy in the state quarterfinals on Tuesday night at Gilbert High.
The Tigers were the preseason championship favorites a season ago behind the dynamic duo of Cody Martin and Ty Hutchins and beat the Broncos for the title. Dudley was on that team, but rode the pine behind the group of talented seniors.
“This is a lot different now being in it,” Dudley said. “It was so loud (in the gym) my ears are still ringing. I love it. This is so fun.”
Dudley, setter Nick Rockwell and libero Chandler Baugh are a few players who may not be as widely known as last year’s group, but have the Tigers two wins away from a title repeat.
Gilbert will be the underdog in the state semifinals against No. 1 Desert Vista, but showed the type of resiliency on Tuesday which should come in handy the rest of the way.
The Tigers trailed 23-21 in the first game and 24-22 in the second against Brophy, but rallied for the win each time. In the fourth set, Gilbert shook off a late 21-20 deficit to clinch the match.
“We’ve been able to finish well this whole season,” Gilbert coach Jeff Grover said. “That’s one of the fun things about this team — that I always know we’re in it. I wish it was different and that we were up early, but I love the way they kept themselves composed.”
The Broncos had several stretches where they imposed their will behind towering middle blockers Adam Lincoln and Billy Andrew, but couldn’t make the plays at the end of the three close games they lost.
“It’s unfortunate timing,” Brophy coach Tony Oldani said. “We’d get into a great spot and then get blocked or hit it out. We ended Game 2 with with three hitting errors and Game 4 with three hitting errors. But that’s a tribute to their defense.”
Gilbert will play the top-seeded Thunder on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for a berth in Saturday’s championship match.