2012 Division I volleyball state tournament
When: Tuesday (first round), Thursday (quarterfinals), Saturday (semifinals) and Nov. 6 (Championship)
Where: First round and quarterfinals at higher seed; semifinals (4 p.m. and 6 p.m.) and championship match (7:45 p.m.) at Mesquite H.S.
First round schedule: No. 16 Kofa at No. 1 Horizon; No. 9 Rincon at No. 8 Basha; No. 12 Tucson at No. 5 Gilbert; No. 13 St. Mary’s at No. 4 Mountain Ridge; No. 14 Pinnacle at No. 3 Xavier; No. 11 Desert Vista at No. 6 Chaparral; No. 10 Millennium at No. 7 Centennial; No. 15 Mountain Pointe at No. 2 Hamilton.
Favorite: Horizon: It might be cliché being the No. 1 seed and all, but it’s hard not to wonder if this is Horizon’s year. The Huskies were turned back by Gilbert in last year’s epic state championship match, and Val McKenzie’s team has looked every bit a title favorite. The Huskies are 39-3 with all three losses coming in tournaments (the only loss to an AZ school was against Xavier in the Goldwater tournament in early October). Val McKenzie’s team hasn’t lost a game since Oct. 6 and have beated Xavier, Hamilton, Chaparral and Mountain Ridge among others. Led by Nikki Hess and talented core of juniors (Sierra Nobley, Jensen Cunningham, Tess Clark and sophomore Jordan Anderson), they’ve been nothing short of unbeatable.
Darkhorse: Gilbert: It sounds weird to call the defending state champions a darkhorse, but the way Horizon has played all season, not to mention Hamilton at No. 2 (17-0 in power rankings matches), No. 3 Xavier and No. 4 Glendale Mountain Ridge, the Tigers (No. 5) fit the bill this season. Gilbert’s lone power rankings loss was to Xavier in late September – the Tigers also lost to Xavier in a tournament – but the Tigers are on the opposite side of the bracket. The core of Kayla Lederer, Kaylee Panepinto, Heather Ball and Lauren Hicks has been rock-solid, and freshmen Kameryn Hill and Makenna Martin have quickly become big factors. Hamilton beat Gilbert in the Nike Tournament of Champions two weeks ago, and it’ll be a tough road because a matchup at Mountain Ridge looms in the quarterfinals, but experience and coaching matters against other elite teams in the tournament, and Joe Hesse’s team has both.
Outlook: Despite the (understandable) outcry about a power rankings erroneously counting some tournament results which wasn’t discovered until late last week, the top quadrant of the rankings appear pretty accurate (Horizon, Hamilton, Xavier and Mountain Ridge). The AIA/MaxPreps.com mishap pushed teams such as Corona del Sol, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor and Avondale Westview who were among the top 16 out of the tournament, and pulled a couple outside back into the tournament. Of course, those are the same four semifinal teams from 2011, but no reason to think the same four won’t be there again. Led by Brittany Thomas, Alexa Saba, Lauren Jacobsen, and Shelby Bacbcock, Sharon Vanis’ Hamilton squad went undefeated in power rankings matches and has wins against Xavier, Basha, Desert Vista and Chaparral on the resume. Watch out for No. 8 Basha. The Bears lost twice in power rankings matches to Hamilton and a third to Xavier, but that’s it. Jim Kann’s team took third place in the Nike Tournament of Champions (a one-set match win against Gilbert because the two schools had just played one another). The top four seeds have earned it, and the tournament field is deep, but don’t expect many first-round upsets. Quarterfinals matchups, however, could be crazy.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.