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March 2008
Boys volleyball keeps growing

54 of the 125 schools in Class 4A, 5A have boys volleyball
Odeen Domingo
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 14, 2008 10:49 AM

Like any teenager, the 14-year-old sport of boys volleyball in Arizona is experiencing change.

More top-notch athletes are choosing boys volleyball and sticking with it every year, adding more depth to a sport willing to rival that of traditional ones. Not only are more athletes noticing Arizona boys volleyball, so are NCAA Division I coaches and USA Volleyball, the governing body that oversees the men's volleyball national team.

As for what is there that wasn't before? Try new boys volleyball programs this season, including Gilbert Higley and El Mirage Dysart.

Just 14 teams participated in the first boys volleyball season, which ended in a state tournament won by Phoenix Mountain Pointe in 1995.

Now, 54 of the 125 schools in Class 4A and 5A have boys volleyball programs, with Gilbert Perry, Gilbert Williams Field and Tucson Sahuarita ready to field Division II varsity teams next season.

Through 14 years, the development of Arizona boys volleyball has seen one world-class player come through, a handful of programs become state powerhouses and the depth of talent grow statewide.

But what are the teen years without those awkward moments? The sport in Arizona is still fighting stereotypes and districts that refuse to add it. Plus, the state's pool of NCAA Division I talent is minimal.

"I don't know if the development has been leaps and bounds, but it has been a steady growth," said Mountain Pointe coach Fred Mann, who has won the most boys volleyball state titles (five, the last in 2003).

The testament of the sport's development will continue when Gilbert Highland, Phoenix Brophy Prep, Tucson Rincon and defending Division I champion Phoenix Desert Vista represent Arizona next week in a 50-plus-team national tournament in Las Vegas.

In last season's tournament, Highland, Brophy and Tucson Catalina Foothills finished in the top eight of their brackets.

The sport's beginnings couldn't have been more humble, but 1994 was the right time for boys volleyball to rise in Arizona. Mann, who won a collegiate national title in South Africa as a player, had moved to the state and built a club program with his Mountain Pointe students. Among them was Reid Priddy, now the go-to player on the USA Men's National Volleyball Team. He recently led the team in qualifying for this summer's Beijing Olympics.

But the club didn't have a gym, so it rented churches. It didn't have jerseys, so it bought hand-me-downs.

Around the same time, Gilbert High student Nate Boulter and a few friends wanted to start a boys team at their school.

To do that, the boys had to start from scratch - convince the school board and convince enough schools in the East Valley to field teams to form a conference. At the time, only four Tucson schools had teams.

"I tell my (players) all the time how much those boys had to put up with," said Gilbert Highland coach Vee Hiapo, who coached Highland to four consecutive state title matches.

Boulter credits Gilbert's first boys coach, Jo Elyn Boone, and Mann for helping the sport become what it has.

"I don't think I could have played or been a captain with the caliber of talent coming out nowadays," Boulter said, laughing.

That is due to the commitment of coaches forming year-round club teams, Mann said.

"It used to be just four or five teams playing club tournaments," he said. "Now players from 30 teams are playing in the off-season."

The club scene has helped schools challenge powerhouses Highland, Mountain Pointe and Tucson Canyon del Oro. Desert Vista, which has several players who are members of Mann's club team, won last season's Division I title as the seventh seed.

Mann labeled northwest Valley schools Anthem Boulder Creek and Glendale Mountain Ridge as up-and-coming teams because their coaches have formed successful clubs.

What Boulder Creek coach Chad Speer did was take what Mann and Hiapo had done to cultivate a powerhouse.

"It's basically the same format I used," Speer said. "I used the club to build the high school team. Now, we're successful on both sides."

With the depth of talented teams increasing, the next step for the state is developing top talent. A few players were able to receive scholarships from collegiate Division I programs in the past but the "can't-miss" players are, well, missing.

Though Priddy was there at the beginning, he has proved to be an anomaly.

But as Mann pointed out: "He's an anomaly regardless. How many people become a two-time Olympian? To be a freak of nature. To be 6-foot-3 (short for an international-level outside hitter) and one of the top players in the world let alone the United Sates."

Getting the school's best athletes to commit to volleyball has been tough. Many feel that Desert Vista's 6-foot-8 senior outside hitter Michael Proctor could be one of the country's best players if he stuck with volleyball.

But Proctor's first love is basketball, and he is one of the state's best players on the hardwood. Even though he is committed to play at Northern Colorado, that didn't stop BYU, the country's top-ranked men's volleyball team, from calling Proctor recently.

One volleyball-only player who could become nationally known is Tucson Salpointe Catholic junior setter Pat Tunnell.

"He was the first one to start on varsity as a freshman and never came off the court," Salpointe coach Amy Johnson said. "He has the right body (at 6-feet-4), the right athleticism. He pretty much has everything you're asking for."

USA Volleyball has seen the growth in Arizona and set up tryouts for its High Performance national team in January. Brophy coach Tony Oldani, who was chosen to coach the Boys Arizona High Performance team, said that more NCAA Division I coaches are scouting Arizona.

"Volleyball was thought of as a girls sport," Rincon coach Juanita Kingston said. "But I'd like to see you put your face in front of a guy hitting a ball and tell me it's just a girls sport. It's just a rush when those guys hit so darn hard."

Higley coach Nick Lujan said he has drawn players from different sports and even members of the band.

"It's been a blessing seeing new schools getting programs," Oldani said. "It's been awesome watching the sport grow."

And it will continue to do so, as any teenager does.

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AZ Region Girls HP Tryouts Ends with Record Numbers

The Arizona Region ended the tryout phase of its 2008 High Performance Program with a record breaking number of Arizona athletes participating.

With the HP Championships coming to Tucson in July, the program has gained much interest from athletes, coaches and parents alike. The tryout numbers, the biggest in the Region’s 9 year history with the High Performance Program, bear that out:

  • On January 5th and 6th, the Region saw 58 boys tryout for spots on the Region team and for National team and camp considerations.
  • On March 9, at the National and Regional girl’s tryouts, 28 girls tried out for the select age group, 44 for the youth age group and 22 for the junior age group.
  • On March 20th, 28 more youth age athletes took to the court along with 40 select age groups for a shot at just the Regional teams.

In total, 162 girls added to the boys total saw the Region tryout 210 athletes.

Congratulations to those athletes that tried out. Notification for the National teams will come in mid-May and for the Regional selections a few weeks later.

The Region will be sponsoring a Boy’s Select team, a Girl’s Select team and a Girl’s Youth team.

For specific questions, e-mail

Thank You for your support.

Arizona Region High Performance

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2008 AVC Tucson Tournament Cancelled More > > >

Mar 2008

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