The undefeated Perry High School boy’s volleyball team heads into this weekend’s state playoff tournament on a roll that has not only put them at the top among 6A teams in Arizona, but among teams across the country.
The Pumas, part of the Chandler Unified School District, finished the regular season a perfect 17-0, only losing a combined five sets throughout the year.
The team was ranked No.1 in the latest national poll released Tuesday on high school sports website MaxPreps, as well as No. 1 in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s 6A rankings as of Thursday morning and a projected No. 1 seed in the 16-team playoff bracket.
Like other spring high school sports overseen by the AIA, there was no boys volleyball playoff in 2020 because of the pandemic. Chandler was the 2019 6A champion and ranked 5th by AIA as of Thursday.
“It has been really exciting for us to be able to play volleyball again,” said Perry High school boy’s volleyball coach Ryan Tolman.” We were looking forward to last year with a very talented team and one we thought could win it all so it was devastating to lose that season. We had 10 seniors last year and they had their season ripped away, so this year the team is not taking for granted anything.”
The Perry boys volleyball team never has won a state championship. The girls team, which plays in fall, went undefeated and secured the No.1 seed but ended up as state runner-up in 2019 and 2020.
“Perry as a high school has not won a men’s state championship in any sports yet,” Tolman said. “Everybody is racing to try to be the first. As a school, it would be very special to hang that first men’s state championship banner. For the program, it would be validating for not getting a chance to compete for one last year and do it for the boys that did not get shot at it. We have been building towards it and we thought it would be last year to finish it off so we are waiting opportunity to validate all hard work and effort these boys put into the program.”
The talent is there for the team but what has set them apart from others in the state has been the experience key players bring to the team from four of its seniors: Camden Neimann, Dalan and Canyon Smith and Jack Stanley.
“In a year, there is not a lot of seniors around the state we have four that we would know be real high level contributors,” Tolman said. “The majority of our starters were with us last year in the shortened season, but played for month and a half against some really stiff competition and they are all club guys.”
Although the perfect record, the team has its flaws that they are working on but when they overcome those challenges they are confident they can achieve the result they want.
“We tend to struggle with confidence issues and believing in ourselves and approaching each match with the right level of confidence,” Tolman said. “We got some quiet kids on our team and we do not have the biggest personalities on the team so sometimes we do not communicate well but when we have good focus, energy and communication we are tough to beat.”
Their focus is now is on the state playoff tournament starting Saturday.
The journey to that title will not be simple. Among other teams that could emerge are two also ranked nationally by MaxPreps, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (12-4) ranked No. 4 and Gilbert Highland (15-2) No. 11.
The Pumas have faced both teams in late March where they dropped a set to each team while winning the match.
“We dropped a set to Brophy a couple of weeks ago and they have a talented roster so we are not overlooking them,” Tolman said. “Those are the three teams we identified as big matches if we run into them again and we are not overlooking our finals two matches in Desert Vista and Mesa High since they are both in the top 7 so we have our work cut out for us.”
Several key players have led the Pumas this season.
“My setter Gehrig, my son, his ability to find the right guy at the right moment will be key,” Tolman said. “Our middle blockers are going to be key and most nights we know what we are going to get from the twins, Dalan and Canyon Smith.
“I think one of the biggest components to our success is going to come from our libero spot, Jack Stanley. This is his first year playing at that position as he was a outside hitter before and he moved over and has gradually improved every single match we have played,” Tolman added.
The 6A playoffs, along the the 5A and 4A tournaments, get underway Saturday, with 16 teams competing to win four matches in a week to secure the state championship.