There comes a point when a program is so dominant that it has an advantage against some opponents before competition even begins, simply because of the uniform it wears. It occurs after years of success and comes with a large amount of respect, some intimidation for others and plenty of expectations within the program.
It is where the Xavier College Prep (Phoenix) volleyball program sits as the 2011 postseason approaches.
The Gators have won the last four Class 5A Division I state titles and five of six big-school classification championships. And they quest for another one begins Nov. 1.
"It depends on the team, I suppose," senior captain
said about any advantage the Gators' school colors - royal blue, white and kelly green – might bring. "We don't get into the factors of what helps the other team win or lose. We worry about what we have to do to play our game and we know anyone can win at any time so we have to be at our best."
Xavier heads into the playoffs as one of the favorites again despite the shifting of classifications by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. The new format brings into play some of the top teams that used to be in Class 5A Division II, including two-time champion Horizon (Scottsdale, Ariz.).
But the Gators are more than well-equipped to take a shot at their 11th state title since 1996.
Xavier is 40-2 on the season and sits 14th in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Volleyball Rankings with the defeats coming at Horizon, a three-game sweep on Sept. 13, and against Marymount (Los Angeles) in the Las Vegas Durango Classic, where the Gators finished fifth after going 6-1.
"We had some new players, including two sophomore outside hitters, that forced us to work through some things out early on," Xavier coach Tim McHale said. "The lulls are smaller and we are working through that. There are some things we need to care of, but we are playing at a high level."
McHale, who has led the Xavier to six of their titles and also finished as runners-up in 2003, expects a lot from his players and has no problem reminding them about the Xavier standard.
"Tradition never graduates," he said. "The things what we did in years past affects what you do you now. You have a level of expectation whether you are a freshman up on varsity or a senior that is getting their first shot at getting some playing time.
"It doesn't matter, if you are on the court you have to go hard, you have to believe and you have to work harder than anyone else in the gym."
Desert Vista (Phoenix) coach Molly West has battled Xavier for years and was knocked out of the state semifinals last season by the Gators, so she knows a little bit about what makes them so successful.
"The difference with Xavier is their ball control is solid every year," West said last week after being swept by Xavier. "They have a great quarterback at setter. They are amazing athletes with a lot of experience touching that second ball. They are pretty deep every year because it is a great program that produces new kids each year.
"Add it all together and they are who they are for a reason."
This year the attack offense is being headed by sophomore outside hitter Mia Teilborg (409 kills in 109 games) and Hornacek (339 in 108), while senior setter Bianca Arellano (12.5 sets a game) does a great job spreading the ball around.
Defensively, senior Amanda Benson leads with 5.1 digs per game while Hornacek (81 aces) and Arellano (54 aces) are the steadying influences on the court.
"Everyone talks about how we lose so much each year because of graduation, but we train everyone in the program to be ready," Arellano said. "The new classes come in and keep it going. As seniors we are in charge of keeping the tradition alive and leave the program at the level it was when we were freshmen."
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 15-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at
email@example.com or 480-272-2449. Watch more videos of Xavier College Prep volleyball