ATHLETE OF THE WEEK
Tait Neilson: The Gilbert senior outside hitter has paced the Tigers much of the year and broke out with 64 kills and nine aces during the two-day Brophy Invitational last weekend. He went into the weekend with 21 kills in a win over rival Gilbert Highland in Fiesta Region play and then got 11 more against Chandler earlier this week as Gilbert ran its regular season record to 12-0.
Beyond the Box Score
Phoenix Brophy Prep is used to success. The Broncos have been in the state tournament seven straight years. They’ve won two state titles (2001, 2006), lost in the semifinals (2004) and twice in the quarters (2002, 2007).
That has made this season a bit more of a challenge. With just two seniors on the roster, Brophy already was facing a tough year. Then, they got placed in arguably the toughest region in the state — the Central.
The result? A 2-8 record heading into its own tournament last weekend, with six of the eight participating teams ranked in the top 10.
So what did Brophy do? The Broncos pulled off the best two days of the season and came within a few points of reaching the tournament final late Saturday afternoon.
“We’re not sure what it is,” Broncos coach Tony Oldani said. “The assistant coaches and I were just sitting there and saying, ‘What happened?’
“We knew eventually it would come around. We just had a bunch of kids, young kids, who hadn’t played a lot of varsity volleyball, who hadn’t played a lot of volleyball period, and we just needed time.”
At least one opposing coach said to watch out for Brophy because if it gets a run together and sneaks into the playoffs as a No. 15 or 16 seed, it could be dangerous.
But that could be tough. Brophy got back into region play on Tuesday and was swept by Phoenix Desert Vista, which is No. 9 in the current Arizona Interscholastic Association power rankings.
Gilbert Highland also has had a lot of success, winning the state title two years in a row and then losing in the final the last two seasons.
But Highland has a tough road ahead, having lost earlier in the year to the Tribune’s top-ranked team, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, and then last week at home to No. 2 Gilbert. An early exit at the Brophy Invitational last weekend didn’t bode well, but the confidence is still there.
“We’ve seen how good we play together,” outside hitter Parker Del Re said. “That’s what Highland lives off of — how great we all play together and how much of a team we are.”
Del Re has turned plenty of heads. Although the Hawks didn’t reach the final matches, Del Re was named the Brophy tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The senior also made noise at the Las Vegas tournament earlier in the season. Maybe he’s just warming up for another tournament — in May.
“He had a phenomenal weekend and everyone knows that,” teammate Corbin Weatherby said. “But he’s still not happy. Definitely that’s how it is here. Parker wants the team to get better, that’s the main goal, to be in the finals, and take it this year.”
While Tucson Salpointe remained on top of the AIA power rankings going into play on Thursday night, plenty of folks were scratching their heads after the Lancers’ appearance at the Brophy Invitational.
The southern Arizona school was last after round-robin play on Friday, and then promptly went out after two matches in the double-elimination portion of the tournament on Saturday. Since tournament matches don’t count toward power points, Salpointe remains 12-0 atop the rankings that will determine state tournament seeding. That led at least one coach to remark that a No. 16 seed could pull off an “upset” and no one would be too surprised.
The East Valley Region appeared to be a one-team race until Mesa Red Mountain beat Mesa last week, handing the Jackrabbits their first regular season loss of the year. Mesa has another challenge on Thursday, traveling to Mesa Westwood. On Tuesday, Brophy gets its second shot at No. 1 Mountain Pointe and will try to earn some power points.