Note: This article includes schools in the writer’s area of coverage, which is as follows: from Fountain Hills west through Scottsdale, all of Phoenix (except for Ahwatukee), the southwest, northwest and northern sections of the metro area. Other locales include northern, northeast and northwest Arizona. Most of this information was obtained from e-mail questionnaires returned by the coaches and from Arizona interscholastic Association archives.
Opponents of the girls’ volleyball team from Phoenix Horizon will bring their usual pieces of equipment to matches this year, with one addition – a ladder.
That’s what it could take to climb atop Division I and unseat the Huskies.
Seven players on coach Valorie McKenzie’s roster stand 6 feet or taller, including three at 6-4.
“We have athletic, tall players who will be aggressive on both sides of the net,’’ McKenzie said. “Defense will be a priority, with ball control and intense competitiveness a must . . . if we can maintain the work ethic and passion demonstrated in the past, this group should progress to once again be a contender in November.’’
Most of the key players are seniors.
Start with 6-4 outside hitter/middle Jensen Cunningham, a returning All-Arizona by azcentral.com. She is one of five players to already commit to colleges for 2014. She will go to San Diego State. Outside hitter Sierra Nobley will go to Boise State, middle Tess Clark to Louisville, setter Lauren Conati to Cal State Northridge and Natalie Tardy to Grand Canyon in Phoenix.
Middle Christine Johnson and libero Jordan Anderson also have recruiters following their every move.
Clark and Johnson are 6-4, Conati and Tardy are 6-2, Nobley is 6-1 and Megan Block, new to the varsity and a key reserve, is 6 feet.
Other key players are junior libero/setter Jordan Anderson, senior outside hitter Marissa Scheeler. Three other newcomers should be a factor – junior Gabrielle Contreras (transfer from Glendale Ironwood), setter Roxanne Lake (transfer from Chandler Hamilton) and freshman outside hitter Erin Clark.
Division I runner-up Phoenix Xavier Prep has a new coach – Lamar-Renee Bryant – who replaces long-time court boss Tim McHale. Bryant has been the Gators’ junior-varsity coach for the last eight seasons, so she is very familiar with the players.
“I am looking forward to this upcoming season and continuing the rich traditions of Xavier volleyball,’’ Bryant said.
Bryant lists 6-foot senior outside hitter Mia Teilborg, 6-2 sophomore outside hitter Khalia Lanier and 6-foot senior outside hitter Dani Westfall as her top players. Lanier is the daughter of former NBA star Bob Lanier and already one of the most powerful players in the state. She was named MVP this summer in the 15 Open Junior National Tourney.
Among the other area teams expected to win regularly are Glendale Mountain Ridge, Scottsdale Chaparral, Peoria Centnial, Goodyear Millennium, Phoenix St. Mary’s and Phoenix Pinnacle.
Teams can rejoice with the move of 2012 champion Flagstaff High to Division III, and that signals a wide-open race.
Phoenix Arcadia should be the happiest. The Titans had a 2-0 lead against Flagstaff in the title match, only to watch Flagstaff come back to win three straight and finish the season unbeaten at 42-0.
Arcadia coach Josh Olshan has three players around which to build – senior middle blocker Abby Schneider, sophomore outside hitter Christina Conrado and freshman libero Katie Tolson.
Three-year starter Taylor Yost is back to lead Lake Havasu in Division II.
Glendale Copper Canyon is looking for another year of improvement under third-year coach Peter McGloin. The team won seven games in his first season and 10 a year ago.
“The team has come a long way the last few years and I think the best is yet to come,’’ McGloin said.
His top players are junior outside hitter Jazmine Richardson, junior middle blocker Danielle Walker and junior outside hitter Andrea Calles.
Buckeye Verrado moves from Division III to Division II. The Vipers were 16-2 during the regular season in 2012 and were the No. 6 seed in the D-III tournament.
Upperclassmen Rylie Steeg and Maitland Longquist lead the way, with significant contributions expected from sophomores Celine White and Candance Lacour.
Prescott High has an experienced group returning, along with three newcomers for coach Shellie Bowman.
“We are excited. I think we are going to be a team to watch,’’ Bowman said.
The Badgers’ core players are middle blocker Maddy Delp, middle Veronica Norkus, outside hitters Sydney Koehler, Taylor Satterlee and Sierra Howard, Emily Hardy, Amber Downs, Raphael Temple and defenders Dekka Hurley, Alissa Becker and Katie Duke.
Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep also could challenge for a title, along with Glendale Ironwood, Avondale Agua Fria, Cave Creek Cactus Shadows, Phoenix Paradise Valley, Peoria Liberty, Glendale Deer Valley and Phoenix Sunnyslope.
Flagstaff joins a strong group of teams that includes defending champion Tuba City, Lakeside Blue Ridge, Kayenta Monument Valley, Glendale Cactus, Phoenix Thunderbird, Cottonwood Mingus, Snowflake, Payson High and Fort Defiance Window Rock.
Coached by Harlan Barlow, Tuba City is led by senior setter/outside hitter Kamia Yazzie, junior setter Tate Tsingine, junior middle Rynell Natoney and junior middle Samytha Parrish.
Payson is expected to show a big improvement under coach Arnold Stonebrink, who calls his team one of the best he’s coached.
Among Stonebrink’s top players are senior middle hitter Emmee Ashby, who returns to the Longhorns after playing at Queen Creek last year.
He also will have senior setter McKenzie Creighton, junior middle Rachael Larned, senior outside hitter Taylor Randall and senior libero Kaylee Byers.
Anthony Jones takes over as coach at Surprise Shadow Ridge. His top players are senior libero Cheyanne Torres, senior setter/outside hitter Hope Kindred and senior outside hitter Haylee White.
This race should be interesting, with 2012 Division V champ Phoenix Veritas Prep joining a list that includes D-IV champ Sedona Red Rock and runner-up Phoenix Northwest Christian.
Wes Goodwin-coached Veritas features senior Sarah Sponcil, a two-time azcentral.com Player of the Year for small schools. She can play anywhere on the floor and excel. She fine-tuned her game over the summer for the second straight year in sand volleyball competition in southern California.
Senior libero Abby Hickman is back, along with sophomore outside hitter Kelly Anderson.
Other top teams are Phoenix Scottsdale Christian, Parker High, Round Valley, Pinon, Ganado, Tuba City Greyhills, Surprise Paradise Honors and St. Johns.
Phoenix Valley Lutheran was runner-up last season and would appear to have a good chance to take over after the departure of Veritas.
Other top teams are Glendale Joy Christian, Joseph City, Phoenix Christian, Phoenix Arizona Lutheran, Heber Mogollon and Ash Fork.