Video: Final Xcellent 25 Girls Volleyball Rankings Presented by The Army National GuardMaxPreps host Myckena Guerrero take us through the final 2017 national volleyball rankings.
A year ago, Walton (Marietta, Ga.) swept through the state 7A tournament to capture the state's largest division championship. It was an impressive year — a 39-6 record, a No. 32 MaxPreps Xcellent Ranking (No. 8 MaxPreps Computer Ranking) and no in-state losses.
What could be better?
How about a third-straight state championship, no in-state losses and a 40-1 won-loss record? And a 2017 MaxPreps National Championship?
The Raiders weren't just very good in 2017, they were dominant.
Walton won three major tournament titles and finished runner-up in the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix. The Raiders won the early season Georgia Finalist Play-date in August, won the Louisville Invitational (beating No. 3 Assumption 25-16, 25-19 in the finals) and swept the field at the Berkeley Prep Premiere Tournament in Tampa (beating No. 23 Berkeley Prep 25-16, 25-18 in the finals).
In winning 97 of 101 sets, Walton did not play a five-set match all season. They lost 2-1 (25-21, 15-25, 8-15) to California large school finalist Mater Dei (Santa Anna) and lost a set each to 31-11 Mesa (Ariz.) and to 32-3 Missouri state champion St. Joseph's Academy (St. Louis).
In addition to beating St. Joseph's, the Raiders defeated five other state champions, including Assumption (Louisville, Ky.). They also beat California D1 state winner Santa Margarita, Florida 5A champion Berkeley Prep (Tampa), Georgia 6A champion Harrison and Georgia 3A titlist Pace (Atlanta). Their 2017 opponents had a combined winning percentage of 70 percent and only four had losing records.
Of the 18 players on the roster, only two were seniors (Sam Jones
and Katie Crocker
) and seven were juniors. Nine were six feet or taller.
The Raiders averaged 14.3 kills and 13.3 digs per set. While All-American junior Gabby Gonzales
gets much of the attention (she led the team in kills with a 5.5 per set average), junior Reilly MacNeill
led in kill percentage (60 percent) and blocks (103), junior Caroline Cheney
led in assists (11.5 per set), freshman Emery Dupes
led in digs (3.1 per set) and aces (47). Nine different players served for 50 or more points during the season and 10 played in 55 or more sets.
But despite all the domination, there were preseason hiccups and more than a few concerns.
"Despite all the potential, we had a starter deciding not to play, and a key injury, so I didn't want expectations to be too high," said coach Suzanne Fitzgerald. "And this team was young — 50 percent of the players were underclassmen."
Despite winning the state 7A title in 2016, Fitzgerald noted there was a lot missing from the team concept. They won 39 of 45 matches, but lost six times to out of state opponents, including three times in Phoenix.
Team and individual focus needed work, said Fitzgerald, who noted the team motto this year was "Greater," a movie based on the life of Brandon Vaughn Burlsworth. An offensive lineman for the Arkansas Razorbacks in the late 1990s, Burlsworth joined the team as a walk-on and eventually became an All-American.
"To reach our potential, we knew we needed more commitment than we had a year ago. We knew we needed better team chemistry," said Fitzgerald. "We worked a lot on team chemistry. We worked on character building. We had t-shirts and team bracelets with ‘Greater' printed on them. We wanted reminders of the commitment needed."
Fitzgerald also started a mentor program where each upperclassman took on an underclassman for leadership. The goal was to make sure the team's values were in place and to make sure everyone was accountable. They were required to spend time together off the court during each week of the season.
"Everything that we said we needed to do, everything that we needed to fix, we did. It worked," said Fitzgerald.
The end result, said Fitzgerald, "All 18 players wanted the best version of themselves."
The only hiccup was in the championship game of the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix when California power Mater Dei (Santa Ana) beat the Raiders, 2-1, for the title.
Fitzgerald said the Raiders were missing two injured regulars in Arizona.
"I'm not making an excuse, nothing we could do about it," she said. "Once we lost, we said we have to address it. And we did."
Following the loss to Mater Dei, the Raiders blew through their final seven opponents, outscoring them 525-278. The final three lopsided wins occurred during the state 7A tournament, the Raiders' sixth title in seven years.
"What we did worked," reiterated Fitzgerald.
Marist (Chicago, Ill.) was a close second in the voting, finishing the season with 32 wins in a row and the Illinois state large school title.
Rounding out the Top 5 were Assumption (the No. 1 team in the MaxPreps Computer Rankings), West Orange (Winter Garden, Fla.) and California Open Division champion Archbishop Mitty (San Jose).
Behind 19 kills from Nichole Liddle and 31 assists by Makaela Tanaka, Archbishop Mitty defeated No. 11 Mater Dei in three sets. It was Mitty's 14th state volleyball title, second straight Open Division title and sixth-straight state title in various divisions.
Archbishop Mitty, which was MaxPreps preseason No. 1, won its final 10 matches.
Finals 2017 MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Volleyball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
1. (Last week 1) Walton (Marietta, Ga.), 40-1 2. (2) Marist (Chicago), 41-1 3. (3) Assumption (Louisville, Ky.), 40-3 4. (4) West Orange (Winter Garden, Fla.), 29-0 5. (8) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.), 37-56. (6) Ursuline Academy (Cincinnati), 28-1 7. (5) Lewis-Palmer (Monument, Colo.), 29-0 8. (9) Notre Dame Prep (Pontiac, Mich.), 63-2-2 9. (10) Xavier College Prep (Phoenix), 40-3 10. (11) Novi (Mich.), 57-3 11. (7) Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), 37-612. (12) Teurlings Catholic (Lafayette, La.), 42-0 13. (13) Flint Hill (Oakton, Va.), 37-0 14. (14) North Allegheny (Wexford, Pa.), 24-0 15. (15) Torrey Pines (San Diego), 34-4 16. (16) Connetquot (Bohemia, N.Y.), 40-1-2 17. (17) Immaculate Heart Academy (Washington Township, N.J.), 40-1 18. (18) Lakeville North (Minn.), 32-2 19. (19) RHAM (Hebron, Conn.), 35-1-1 20. (20) St. Joseph's Academy (St. Louis), 32-3 21. (21) Hebron (Carrollton, Texas), 41-7 22. (22) Avon (Ind.), 37-3 23. (23) Berkeley Prep (Tampa, Fla.), 30-2 24. (24) Dorman (Roebuck, S.C.), 42-4 25. (25) Southridge (Beaverton, Ore.), 37-1-1 The Next 2526. Venice (Fla.), 26-427. Maple Lake (Minn.), 32-028. Minooka (Ill.), 39-329. Dike-New Hartford (Dike, Iowa), 50-330. Corona del Sol (Tempe, Ariz.), 41-331. Althoff Catholic (Belleville, Ill.), 41-132. Marist (Atlanta), 40-333. Prosper (Texas), 46-634. Helias (Jefferson City, Mo.), 31-4-135. Kamehameha (Honolulu), 27-536. Brentwood (Tenn.), 40-637. Cedar Falls (Iowa), 43-238. Marin Catholic (Kentfield, Calif.), 32-539. Northwest (Germantown, Md.), 19-040. Northwest (Olathe, Kan.), 40-441. Wando (Mt. Pleasant, S.C.), 48-4-142. St. James Academy (Lenexa, Kan.), 39-643. Eagan (Minn.), 26-244. Green Hope (Cary, N.C.), 31-245. Lone Peak (Highland, Utah), 25-446. Panas (Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.), 40-3-547. Eaton (Colo.), 27-248. Valley View (Jonesboro, Ark.), 40-249. River Falls (Wis.), 43-150. Auburn Riverside (Auburn, Wash.), 25-4