As long as Valorie McKenzie can remember, her Phoenix Horizon girls volleyball team and rival Phoenix Xavier Prep have taken each other to the frenzied limit.
“Over and over,’’ she said.
So as much as she would have loved to see her team put visiting Xavier away with a three-game sweep after taking a 2-0 lead on Wednesday night (Sept. 25), she wasn’t surprised when that didn’t happen.
Xavier battled back to win Game 3 and Game 4 to force the fifth and deciding game, but Horizon managed to escape with a 15-9 victory and won the match.
Horizon won the first two, 25-18 and 25-20. Xavier won 25-21 and 25-22. Both had played in a 64-team tournament over the weekend in Las Vegas, with Horizon taking third and Xavier 13th.
Horizon, which defeated Xavier in last year’s Division I title match, was third in the first Arizona Interscholastic Association power rankings released on Wednesday, and Xavier was fifth.
McKenzie told her players they weren’t having any fun when she took a timeout in the early stages of the fifth game and Xavier ahead.
“I told them they were thinking backwards, that they needed to get more aggressive, and they did,’’ she said.
Sophomore Khalia Lanier showed her strength with her big-hitting style most of the night for Xavier. She probably had close to two dozen kills and could have had more had Horizon’s big front line not come up with some key blocks.
A kill by Jensen Cunningham, a pair of service aces by Lauren Conati and a block of a Lanier shot gave Horizon momentum down the stretch in the final game.
McKenzie noted the play of Sierra Nobley and Cunningham as keys to the match. Libero Jordan Anderson also had some big plays on digs of attempted kills by the Gators as well as a few saves of her teammates’ shots that appeared to be headed out of bounds.
Xavier had come off a big win over highly regarded Gilbert High on Tuesday night (Sept. 24).
“We played scared the first two games (against Horizon),’’ said Xavier first-year coach Lamar-Renee Bryant. “That is not characteristic of us, and we are going to have to take some time in the gym (practice) to address that.
“In the third game, we finally were able to mentally “check in’ and started believing in our skills.
“It was good to see the girls come back and stay in the match. We made them (Horizon) sweat.’’