Hamilton High School’s volleyball program has long endured success under coach Sharon Vanis.
Vanis took over the program ahead of the 2005 season and has since coached the Huskies to the playoffs every season, including seven appearances in the semifinals. Hamilton has been the runner-up in the state’s toughest conference three times.
Her experience at the collegiate level transformed the Hamilton program, and it has allowed several players to move on to play Division I volleyball. It’s her reputation that has allowed Hamilton to become a breeding ground for some of the top volleyball talent in the state in recent years.
“Coach (Vanis) is the driving force for everything,” senior captain Bailey Williams said. “Anything she says, any drill she throws at us, we all want to learn from her. We don’t know when she is going to retire, but when she does this program won’t be the same without her.”
Hamilton’s reputation as one of the top programs in the state comes while playing in one of the toughest regions, the Premier. Along with the Huskies, the Premier Region includes Chandler High, Basha High, Perry High and Xavier Prep – which has won eight of the last 13 state titles.
Outside of region play this season, Hamilton’s schedule doesn’t get any easier.
The Huskies will play in the Tournament of Champions on Sept. 13 at Westwood High School, as well as the Nike Tournament of Champions on Oct. 4. A trip out west to San Diego on Oct. 11-12 will pin the Huskies against some of the top teams in California.
The brutal schedule will challenge Hamilton on a nightly basis, giving little room for error if the Huskies want to claim a top seed in the postseason tournament for a deep playoff run.
“We plan to be competitive every time we step out onto the floor,” Vanis said. “Our motto this season is to ‘fight to the finish.’
“We are going to go out there with no regrets and leave everything on the floor.”
Hamilton will be led this season by its two senior captains, setter Reilly Babcock and outside hitter Bailey Williams.
Four other seniors, middle blocker India Rhodes, middle hitter Kyra McCain, outside hitter Kaia Gosh and libero Bella Zapata, make up an extremely close-knit 2020 class.
“We’ve played together since we have been like 8 years old,” Babcock said. “Each person is different. But being together for so long, you learn what buttons to push to try and help them succeed and do their best.”
Three juniors, a talented class of sophomores and freshman outside hitter Neomi Beach make up the rest of Hamilton’s team this season.
All of them are willing to learn from the senior class. They recognize that with their guidance, it can help lead them to success beyond this season.
“We really are 17 strong,” Williams said. “We are all confident in one another and know each one of us can get the job done on the floor.”
Williams, Reilly and the rest of the team are focused on a state title this season. They are confident in their ability to compete but know it will take execution on the court during every match.
“We look really good, that’s all I can say,” Babcock said. “Winning the state championship is always the goal in our mind.
“We are going to work hard in every practice, every game, every match to get to our goal.”
Chandler High coach Bobby Robson is coming off a state title with the boys’ volleyball program last spring. The girls finished 19-21 last season, falling to Desert Ridge in the 6A play-in tournament. The Wolves were young last season with several sophomores on the varsity roster. Junior Kaylie Ray figures to be a key contributor for the Wolves once again this season, as she is coming off a sophomore campaign in which she had 310 kills.
Basha High advanced to the quarterfinals of the 6A tournament last season before falling to eventual runner-up Corona del Sol. The Bears return seniors Samantha Drewry, Lindsey Otero and Lizzie Hall, who were among the leaders in kills last season. Several other underclassmen return to the team this season, putting the Bears in position to make yet another run to the postseason.
It was a tough season for a young Casteel High team last season, as the Colts went 12-26 and missed the postseason. But with only two seniors lost to graduation last year, Casteel returns an experienced group poised to make a run. Kendall Varney and Tatum Sanders led the team in kills last season with 384 combined.
Seton Catholic Prep’s volleyball program endured success last season, finishing 30-8 on the year and advancing to the 4A quarterfinals. The Sentinels went undefeated in the 4A Desert Sky Region and aim to repeat the same type of success this season. However, they will do it with several new faces as they graduated 12 seniors.
Arizona College Prep
Arizona College Prep finished as the runner-up in the 3A state tournament last season, losing to Northwest Christian in the championship game. The Knights look to repeat that same success and more in 2019, as they return most of their team after graduating only two seniors. Krista Rowan, Tendall Weigand, Hailey Blixt and Kelsey Burns look to build off a strong junior campaign, in which all four had more than 140 kills.
Valley Christian’s playoff run ended last season after the Trojans ran into a hot Arizona College Prep team in the quarterfinals. But the Trojans may have been one of the few teams in the state without a single senior on its roster. Sophomore Cara Braun led the team in kills as a freshman with 318, while junior Emma Richardson recorded 214 herself. Valley Christian is a team filled with seasoned veterans and makes a strong case as a top 3A contender.
A 28-11 season led by a pair of sophomores has set up Chandler Prep for another successful year in 2019. Olivia Cadien and Evi Yates combined for 635 kills last season for the Titans, who made it to the first round of the 3A Conference tournament. With an experienced group of girls back this season, Chandler Prep has the talent to make a deep postseason run.