It depends on who you ask — either Phoenix Mountain Pointe has made the first statement of the year, or the Pride and Gilbert High simply got some extra court time on the first week of the season.
Mountain Pointe showed good offense and resiliency in rallying for a 18-25, 25-21, 15-10 victory on Saturday in the finals of the Chandler Wolf Howl Invitational.
“It’s kind of shows the other teams that we are good still,” Pride outside hitter Brandon Barna said. “Just because we lost some players from last year, we’re still going to come out and compete.”
After earning a No. 1 seed heading into the state tournament a year ago, Mountain Pointe has had to build around setter Alex Hamill and a couple of key returners this season. By the end of Saturday, it looked like the Pride were back in form.
But for the respective coaches, a tournament like this, which doesn’t figure in calculations for power points and is on the first week of the season, it’s more like spring training.
“I don’t know if it’s that important to win,” Mountain Pointe coach Fred Mann admitted. “This is not worth power points. I’m sure this isn’t part of Gilbert’s goals, it’s not part of our goals to win this tournament. They are a very, very good team, I don’t know, if we play them 10 times, maybe we win five, maybe they win five.”
“This has been the best practice weekend,” Gilbert coach Jeff Grover said. “It’s nice to have no consequences for wins and losses here. So I thought we did a lot better then where we were a week ago.”
Despite those thoughts, Saturday’s championship match had some real spirit, partly because of a couple of controversial calls and likely because of the long day.
The teams had pool-play matches in the morning and then had to win two more in the afternoon to reach the final. The Pride got past Glendale Deer Valley and Gilbert Mesquite while the Tigers beat 5A Division II power Tempe Marcos de Niza and surprising Mesa Westwood, which has returned just one regular from its state quarterfinal run of last year.
After splitting the first two games, the teams were tied at 8 in the final set before Mountain Pointe got momentum on a Bryan Lee kill and then an ace from Barna. A couple of unforced errors put the Pride up 12-8. Derek Schwertley got a dink and a kill to finish off the Tigers.
“It’s nice to play a tournament and come out on top,” Barna said. “We have some great players. Derek had great hits, ‘Hammy’ is one of the greatest setters.”
Gilbert then looked like it was going to run straight through the title match. The Tigers ran off 12 straight points in the first set, helped a bit by a call reversed by the officials that seemed to bother Mountain Pointe. Tait Neilson (13 kills) and Marshall Gillespie led the charge, scoring seven points between them on kills or blocks during the run.
But Mountain Pointe returned the favor with a run of its own in the second set to take control and hold off a late Tiger rally.
Schwertley (eight kills) got a couple of blocks to regain momentum.