It’s a busy national high school notebook this week, starting off with the case for being No. 1 in the final VolleyballMag.com national rankings. That’s because there was some major news this past weekend when one of the front-runners was upset in its respective state final.
As a result, the race for our top spot in the country is still in flux. Also featured are tales on state champions Assumption of Kentucky and Basha of Arizona, as well as notes on more state titles earned around the country this past weekend.
A year ago it was Assumption of Kentucky posting a 43-0 mark and earning the national championship from multiple publications. This past Saturday, Padua Franciscan of Ohio was trying to echo the feat.
The Bruins — having earned their biggest victory yet over nationally-ranked Mount Notre Dame in the Division 1 state semifinals — were one more triumph away from ending the season untouched at 29-0 and with it likely the strongest argument to finish on top of this year’s rankings.
There was just one problem.
St. Francis DeSales wasn’t having anything to do with that storyline. Instead, seniors Emma Brown and Maryanne Boyle combined for 33 kills to help the Stallions (27-2) stun Padua Franciscan (28-1) in four sets 21-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-22 to capture Ohio’s top division and the program’s second state title since last winning in 1982. St. Francis DeSales finishes the season on a 15-match winning streak, with its only two losses coming to Mount Notre Dame and Bishop Hartley, an opponent the Stallions also defeated.
Padua Franciscan had built an impressive lineup of victories leading into Saturday’s final. Included among them were nationally-ranked foes in Mercy and Assumption, both from Kentucky, Mater Dei of California and Mount Notre Dame this past Friday. Assumption brought home the Kentucky single-class state title by beating Mercy on Sunday, while Mater Dei is still in the running for the California state championship.
However, the loss to St. Francis DeSales all but ends Padua’s hopes of winning the mythical national championship. Despite the season put together by the Bruins, it’s virtually impossible to earn that distinction without being the best team in one’s state. After Saturday, it has to be said St. Francis DeSales earned the right to be called the best in Ohio.
Even with the upset, St. Francis DeSales doesn’t have any other signature victories to be considered for the top spot. So now what, where do things stand?
By the looks of it, most signs point west to California.
The front-runners are Torrey Pines and Redondo Union, which could face each other Nov. 19 in a rematch from early September in which Torrey Pines swept. First, Torrey Pines needs to get past Marymount on Saturday. Torrey Pines swept Cathedral Catholic for the CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship this past Saturday, the Falcons’ third victory in three tries against the Dons but Marymount eliminated Cathedral Catholic as the state playoffs opened up Wednesday. That means there won’t be a fourth meeting between Torrey Pines and Cathedral Catholic and instead we’ll see the first encounter between Torrey Pines and Marymount.
Meanwhile, Redondo Union downed Mater Dei in four games to earn the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship Saturday. It was the second time the Sea Hawks beat Mater Dei and Redondo gets a third shot this coming Saturday when the sides meet again in the semifinals of the So Cal regional.
Torrey Pines winning out could likely give the Falcons the best argument for being No. 1. Torrey Pines could be a combined 6-0 against Mater Dei, Marymount, Redondo Union and Cathedral Catholic in one scenario. Given that Cathedral Catholic finished first at the Durango Fall Classic, Marymount on top at the Nike TOC, and Redondo just won the CIF-SS Division 1 crown, any of those are impressive victories. Even if Torrey Pines has losses to unranked teams in Vista Murrieta and La Costa Canyon, Torrey Pines did avenge one of them against LCC and would have enough quality victories to be No. 1 with a state title in its pocket.
The same case could be made for Redondo Union winning out. The Sea Hawks opened the year by winning the Ann Kang Invitational in Hawai’i, picking up a victory over Byron Nelson of Texas. Byron Nelson could still win state in Texas’ biggest division. Redondo Union also owns victories over Marymount, Cathedral Catholic and Mater Dei and could avenge its loss to Torrey Pines on its way to winning state. Like Torrey Pines, Redondo has a pair of losses to unranked schools in James Logan of California and Leon of Florida at Durango in September but would have enough victories to compensate for them.
Cathedral Catholic was also in line should the Dons had won state but the loss to Marymount ends that hope. However, Marymount’s path is still open. The Sailors are 2-0 against Cathedral Catholic after beating the Dons on Wednesday night. Marymount could pick up a victory over Torrey Pines on Saturday, then either Mater Dei or Redondo next week. Marymount lost once already to Redondo, so an opportunity to avenge that would go a long way. If Marymount pulls that off and state, the Sailors could be staring at a national championship.
Should Mater Dei end as state champion, the Monarchs’ argument would go like this. Mater Dei will have picked up a victory over Redondo Union, and despite going 1-2 against the Sea Hawks, it’s a win in state. Mater Dei then could defeat Torrey Pines or get a fourth meeting with Marymount. Marymount is 2-1 against Mater Dei but Mater Dei won in the sectional playoffs in the biggest of the three matchups to date. On top of that, Mater Dei owns a victory over Assumption. In this scenario, the only team to beat the Monarchs in which Mater Dei also wouldn’t have a win against is Padua Franciscan.
The California Open Division state final is set for Nov. 23 but what if a Northern California team wins it, then what?
At this point, it would appear the only other schools in serious consideration hail from Illinois in Marist (36-2) and Benet Academy (39-1). They split with one another, with Marist losing to unranked Carmel for its only other setback. It happens that Marist and Benet square off for a third time when they meet in Friday’s Class 4A state semifinals. The winner faces the winner of Fremd and Wheaton-Warrenville South in Saturday’s final. Should either Benet or Marist take the state title, it would have a case for being ranked No. 1.
Both would be strong arguments. For Marist, it owns victories over Nebraska Class B champion Skutt Catholic and South Carolina 5A state champion Nation Ford. If Cardinal Mooney wins Florida’s 3A title on Saturday, that could be yet another state champion Marist has beaten. Add a state title and two wins over an excellent Benet squad and that’s a great case for being No. 1. It might be strong enough to place Marist ahead of the So Cal squads.
As for Benet, even though Benet didn’t travel out of state, winning Illinois’ biggest division and going 2-1 against Marist goes a long way. Take everything that was said about Marist’s case and then consider Benet would have proven itself the better team over Marist. That gives Benet reason for being No. 1 at the end of the year as well. While we’ll have to wait to see how California plays out, at least we’ll know where Marist and Benet stand by the end of Saturday.
We mentioned Assumption going 43-0 last year. The crazy thing is the Rockets were right back in the national championship talk as the 2019 campaign opened. That’s because even though the starting lineup was much different, it still contained the senior duo of outside Anna DeBeer and middle Rylee Rader.
However, another fairytale season it wasn’t. Injuries to DeBeer and Rader made a run at a national championship nearly impossible. Still, the Rockets wound up in a familiar spot.
For the third consecutive year and 22nd time in the last 28 seasons, Assumption finished on top of the single-class Kentucky state playoffs. This past Sunday, Assumption swept Mercy 25-22, 25-21, 25-18 in the championship clash as DeBeer and Rader each ended with 19 kills.
“It was a different season,” Assumption coach Ron Kordes said. “It was a different lineup every week kind of a thing. But, we got through all of that and we got players back and made a nice run at the state tournament. Last year, we hardly had anyone hurt. This year, we had to keep making adjustment after adjustment. I’m proud of them for that. They kept working and they kept going.”
Even Kordes couldn’t avoid it. He said he had to miss three of the four state matches because he dislocated his hip but that didn’t slow his team from unleashing its dominance over the state yet again.
The injury bug showed up early, with one of the biggest coming to DeBeer during the Avon Invitational in September. She stepped on someone’s foot and it forced her to miss most of the Durango Fall Classic weeks later. Kordes said DeBeer only practiced about half the time and spent time in a boot to heal.
On top of that, Rader was also out for Durango after suffering a concussion and she didn’t return until after the Asics Challenge in early October.
By that time, Assumption had already lost seven matches. The first two came with DeBeer and Rader as Assumption fell to Mater Dei and Padua Franciscan before heading to Las Vegas the following weekend.
“When things go bad a thought can come across the mind that you’re done, but we kept plugging away,” Kordes said. “We lost a few more matches than normal and that’s okay as long as we were learning something. We were pointing at state at the end of the year. I couldn’t ask more of them this year.”
Assumption dropped a set to Male in the regional championship before sweeping its way through four rounds of the state tournament. The victory over Mercy was the third time Assumption topped the Jaguars.
“Our chemistry was really good,” Kordes said of the team.
Basha overcame four match points to capture its first state championship in program history after downing Perry in five games 14-25, 21-25, 32-30, 25-23, 15-10 in the 6A final Tuesday night. The teams split a pair of five-game decisions before meeting for the state championship, but Basha (26-16) lost the first contest with senior outside Jaylen Hodge sidelined. Hodge transferred from Queen Creek and needed to observe the sit-out period before being eligible to play. Her first match was Oct. 2. It came a day after Basha lost to Perry in five games. Basha beat Perry in a rematch on Oct. 17 but nothing was quite like what transpired in the rubber match.
It took an incredible rally after Basha appeared to be in trouble after falling behind two sets to none. It could have ended for Basha during the overscore third set but the Bears found life and then took advantage as the match wore on.
“It’s crazy, I can’t even process everything,” Basha coach Terri Spann said. “We spent this season basically teaching the team how to win. A lot of girls don’t come from as successful club programs and they haven’t had that taste for what it’s like beating teams who are used to being at the top.”
Adding Hodge to the lineup didn’t hurt, of course.
Basha lost 11 times before she was able to start. The Bears won their first outing with Hodge over Chandler but then entered the Nike TOC that weekend and lost four times, all to out-of-state opponents.
The first signs that Basha was gearing up for a state run came after that tournament, when the Bears reeled off consecutive victories over Hamilton, Xavier Prep and Perry. Basha – who lost to Hamilton in a rematch, survived a third clash with Hamilton in the quarterfinals – winning in five 25-22, 25-20, 20-25, 22-25, 17-15. Basha then took care of second-seeded Corona del Sol in straight sets 25-12, 25-15, 25-18 to reach the final and pull off the comeback over Perry.
“Perry is more physical than we are,” Spann said. “We are in great shape and the mental toughness part, we really stepped up when we needed to. I’m very proud of them. They handled themselves very well and stayed composed.”
In the final, the Bears rode 33 kills from Hodge and another 26 by Samantha Drewry. Drewry, also a senior, led Basha with 531 kills in 122 sets on the year. However, Hodge, an Arizona signee, ended with 364 winners in just 57 sets, averaging 6.4 per and hitting .334.
“Our focus was preparing her for the U of A,” Spann said of Hodge. “I think she learned early on that certain stuff doesn’t fly around here. I’m a tough coach to play for and I tried to hold her accountable for certain things.”
Scanning the country for other notable state results takes us to Minnesota, where Eagan was seeking to cap off an undefeated season by winning the Class 3A state championship. Eagan (36-1) survived its test earlier this season when it competed without junior setter Kennedi Orr, who was winning a gold medal with the Youth National Team in Egypt. The Wildcats were in the state final for the third consecutive season but experienced an-all-too familiar result, falling short and going down to Wayzata (31-3) in five games 25-20, 14-25, 25-21, 19-25, 16-14. Instead, the Wildcats watched as Wayzata celebrated its first state title in program history. Wayzata, which received 25 kills from Sophie Jesewitz and 20 winners from Kate Long, fought off a match point in the fifth set. Even had Eagan won and finished its perfect season, rising to the top of the national rankings would have been a longshot. Eagan didn’t travel and its overall strength of schedule didn’t match up to others in the hunt …
In Indiana, New Castle (34-1) completed an impressive season when it topped Hamilton Southeastern (29-5) in four 23-25, 25-15, 25-23, 25-18 to earn the 4A state crown. It was the third straight state title for New Castle, which claimed the past two in 3A before moving up a division in 2019. New Castle, which also defeated Hamilton Southeastern on Aug. 21, suffered its only loss to Assumption during the Avon Invitational. New Castle finished its season behind big outings from juniors Mabrey Shaffmaster and Laila Smith as they racked up 20 kills apiece. Senior Melani Shaffmaster put up 47 assists and 13 kills and senior libero Bailey Cox registered 19 digs. New Castle, had it completed an undefeated season, might have held an argument for being No. 1. Assumption did end up winning the Kentucky state title but the loss to the Rockets given Assumption’s struggles this season makes it very difficult to elevate New Castle to the top …
There was one surprise in Nebraska, where Papillion-La Vista South (24-17) rose up and beat Gretna (28-11) 27-25, 21-25, 25-22, 18-25, 15-7 for the Class A state trophy. The surprise came earlier in the state tournament, when Papillion-La Vista (36-2) was upset by Millard North and lost for just the second time this season. That opened up the bracket and Papillion-La Vista South made the most of it. It was the first state title for PLVS since 2012 and fourth overall. Sophomore Ava LeGrand was key with 22 kills, 21 digs and 20 assists in a monster performance. Ashlyn Dierks added 26 assists and 27 digs while Sophie Hendrix had 26 digs. Also in Nebraska, it was no surprise seeing Skutt Catholic (34-5) bring home its fifth consecutive Class B state championship. The Skyhawks swept Duchesne (23-18) 25-14, 25-12, 25-16 to finish on top in that division. Junior Lindsay Krause was instrumental, recording 16 kills and 15 digs. Senior Megan Skovsende added 16 kills while Allie Gray dished out 46 assists …
In North Carolina, Green Hope (27-2) defeated Ardrey Kell (25-6) 25-13, 25-16, 23-25, 25-20 for its fourth Class 4A state title in a row. Sydney Dowler tallied 43 assists and Annie Elvin led offensively with 14 kills. Alexis Englebrecht and Grace Patrick each had 12 kills. Green Hope’s only setbacks came to Mater Dei and Assumption at the Louisville Invitational Volleyball Tournament in September …
Nation Ford (48-5) is the back-to-back 5A state champion in South Carolina. The Falcons took care of Lexington (35-8) 25-17, 25-20, 25-12 on Saturday. Sophie Fischer (14 kills) and Kennedy Martin (10 kills) paced Nation Ford offensively …
In Missouri, Nixa (37-4) left no doubt which team was the best in Class 4A. Nixa swept Lafayette (30-9) 25-17, 25-22 in Saturday’s final. Nixa was 2-1 against Lafayette entering the finals showdown. Jaycee Fixsen, Lauren Weber and Jordan Collard combined for 20 kills for Nixa …
Checking in on Utah, Pleasant Grove (27-5) outlasted Copper Hills (29-3) 14-25, 25-20, 25-15, 25-22 for the 6A state championship. Pleasant Grove defeated Copper Hills to kick off its year. It was the first state title for Pleasant Grove since winning the 5A trophy in 2014. Mia Peterson (20 kills) and Heather Hamson (15 kills) had big matches for Pleasant Grove …
Wrapping up with Wisconsin, Arrowhead (42-3) defeated Oconomowoc (39-4) in four 25-21, 25-20, 25-21 to capture the Division 1 state title. Arrowhead ends the season 3-1 against Oconomowoc. In its latest victory, Arrowhead was boosted by 19 kills and 14 digs from Aubrey Hamilton. Jade Stefan contributed with 32 assists and Emily Larson tacked on 14 digs.