The Phoenix Xavier Prep beach volleyball team had a target on its backs heading into Tuesday night’s Division I state championship match at Gilbert Mesquite High School.
The Gators were trying to go a perfect 7-0 in state title matches, and, remain the only school that has won an Arizona Division I beach volleyball state title since it became a varsity sport in 2010.
Despite the best efforts of Goodyear Millennium, Xavier’s experience, depth and confidence just proved to be too much, as the defending champions fended off their challengers to win, 4-1, allowing them to extend their impressive run another year.
After the game coach Tim McHale talked about how his team used a mix of experience and youth to win their latest title.
“This is one of those weird, or amazing, combinations of experience and some really, really exuberant youth,” said McHale, who helped build the program at Xavier and has helped steer the team to all seven titles. “All year long there’s been different kids who have stepped up and they’ve done a variety of things that have helped us.”
Two of those players were the senior duo of Cierra Flood and Macy Gordon. The pair closed out the game for Xavier, winning both sets 21-6 and 21-17, and provided a lot of experience and positive energy along the way.
Flood said that while Millennium provided a formidable challenge in the championship, this season couldn’t have ended in a better way.
“I just think it’s a perfect way to end and I’ll always have the memories of the four state championships, and especially to end on this,” Flood said. “It’s super exciting, and they definitely challenged us.”
Gordon added to what her teammate and fellow senior said about their opponents on Tuesday night, saying that the first matchup between the two teams this season presented a special challenge to Xavier.
“We hadn’t seen them before so it was interesting,” Gordon noted. “They definitely pushed us and challenged us I think more than any other team had this season. We knew that we had to earn it and they weren’t just going to give it to us and they were very pumped up and wanted it just as badly as we did.”
Xavier played with a lot of confidence throughout the game, diving for balls and displaying a lot of positive emotion. Gordon said she and her teammates had a belief that they could win every small battle throughout, even when Millennium carried momentum.
“We had some very precise confidence that we could get to every single ball and close it out,” Gordon said. “We did just that and it worked out fantastically.”
Moments after the victory, Xavier’s players and the coaches were already looking back on the long road of progress that has been traveled by the players and the program as a whole.
“This season, I would say we had one of our strongest teams as far as depth,” said Flood, who will be playing collegiately next year at ASU. “Our five and four teams were able to compete with our one’s and two’s. So, we just had a lot of depth and had a lot of talent this year and it’s been a lot of fun since the beginning.”
“We started out with a very strong team this year,” said Gordon, who has committed to play next year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “The freshmen who came into our program are pretty awesome, they are strong, athletic girls. Very dynamic athletes and I’m excited to see where they take this program because it definitely has a bright future ahead of it.”
“I had a video sent to me from a dad and it was of a state tournament game from four years ago,” said McHale. “I got to show them the video and they were just like, ‘I was terrible!’ And ‘I couldn’t hit!’ If you look at the level of play on that tape, on both sides of the net, in comparison to what we’re seeing on display now. It’s grown so much and I’m so excited, even now, because it’s going to continue to grow.”