Xavier Prep’s volleyball program faces “more competition than ever’’ in 2015, according to coach Lamar-Renee Bryant.
That is because Division I has been pared to 25 teams, about half its previous size.
As a result, the Gators will have “the most competitive schedule we’ve had in the last five to 10 years,’’ Bryant said.
The team also has some unfinished business.
XCP had one of the top teams in the state in 2014 and entered the state tournament as the No. 3 seed, then fell to No. 2 Chandler Hamilton in a five-set semifinal match. Xavier finished 35-4.
“We were sad at first (after the loss), but then we got angry – in a good way,’’ said Hope Helser, a 6-foot-1 senior opposite who plays primarily on the right side of the net.
Callie Jones, a 5-9 setter, is one of three senior co-captains, along with outside hitter Khalia Lanier (6-2) and libero Kristen Largay (5-6).
“It’s our job to make the rest of the players understand that we are going to need everything we can to get us there (state championship), that our heads are in the right place,’’ said Jones.
The Gators have been practicing for a week and a half. Jones said she can see signs that the team will be a strong, unified team, “but we’re just in the beginning steps and have more steps to go.’’
Xavier will get its first test of true competition on Wednesday (Aug. 26) when it travels to Hamilton for a scrimmage against Hamilton, Chandler Basha and Phoenix Sunnyslope. The teams also had a pre-season scrimmage last year.
This will be significant in that the Gators will find out how they stack up against some of the better teams. Especially Basha, which will play host to XCP in the season opener on Sept. 3. Xavier’s first home match will be Sept. 10 against Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor.
“We feel like we mesh well together,’’ said 5-7 junior setter Cierra Flood.
“We have all the right kinds of players. It doesn’t seem to matter what position you are talking about. We mix it up. And if the starters go out, we feel we can get the same result with the backups in there.’’
Bryant is optimistic about the season with the talent on her roster. She said Lanie Wagner, a 6-1 sophomore outside hitter, “is due for a breakout year. She already is drawing attention from colleges. And we will have some added depth with Grace Morrison (6-0 junior), who is a transfer from McLean, Va.’’
Another player gaining notice from colleges is 6-4 junior front-line player Makena Patterson. She played a key role in last season’s run.
Xavier is in Division I, Section II along with Scottsdale Chaparral, Scottsdale Desert Mountain, Gilbert, Gilbert Highland, Mesa, Mesa Mountain View and Mesa Red Mountain.