Gilbert looked every bit the big, talented and focused team, poised to gather a state title and Red Mountain was its first sacrificial lamb in opening-round play of the Class 5A state volleyball tournament Monday night at Gilbert.
The Tigers (41-2) needed barely an hour to oust Red Mountain in straight games, 25-7, 25-2, 25-10, in a dominant display that even impressed their coach, Joe Hesse, often their harshest critic.
"I told them that I saw one ball that we could have improved on in the whole match," Hesse said. "That was as focused and as good of a match start to finish that we've played."
The win puts Gilbert, the Fiesta Region's top seed, into tonight's second-round match against a young and talented Desert Mountain team. Desert Mountain, the Desert Valley Region's second seed, upset Phoenix Xavier last week in the semifinal round of the regional tournament. Xavier's win over Gilbert in the state title game last season was Gilbert's only loss the past two seasons to an Arizona team. Gilbert's two losses this season came at a Las Vegas tournament. It defeated Desert Mountain during the Westwood tournament this season.
Gilbert senior standout Jen Christian powered the opening game as she knocked down seven of her game-high 14 kills while the Tigers set the tone for the evening, building a 15-1 lead on the way to the Game 1 win. "Stacy Ray set me up great in all three games," Christian said. "We definitely came out to show what we had."
Said Hesse: "She had 14 kills and no errors. It doesn't get any better than that."
Gilbert's Jessica Elley dominated play at the net and finished with 12 kills. Ray had 33 assists, making for a short night for the Mountain Lions, the East Valley Region's fourth seed.
"Even though we were down 18-0, we were still fighting as hard as we could," Red Mountain coach Jayne Radu said. "I think if we would have minimized our mistakes a little bit the scores wouldn't have been so lopsided. Gilbert's just tall, they're good, they're solid."
The Tigers built the 18-0 lead in Game 2 and Gilbert senior Krista Bellman closed the match with consecutive kills, making for a dominant performance.
"We don't look past anyone," Gilbert senior Whitney Webb said. "No team is unbeatable."