There has been a smattering of boys volleyball matches already, but this weekend’s 17th Wolf Howl Invitational signifies the real start to the season in the East Valley.
Four of the seven area teams are participating in this weekend’s tournament, which is Friday and Saturday at Chandler High.
It’s a great way to take in some early season matches to get an idea of what the teams look like as each team is guaranteed at least four matches.
Desert Ridge, Mesa, Mountain View and Red Mountain are all participating in the event.
The Toros and Jackrabbits are in Pool 2, Desert Ridge in Pool 3 and Red Mountain in Pool 4.
It’s a nice introduction to what looks to be a successful season for all four programs.
“We look to contend for a conference championship and make a strong run in the post-season,” Mesa coach Ray Lewis said. “We will have good senior leadership and be a scrappy defensive team.”
Mountain View has higher expectations than winning the Wolf Howl by the end of the season.
“We should have a really good season this year and are eyeing a state championship,” Toro coach Kevin Powell said. “We have a great group of senior leaders.”
Here is a look at the area teams heading into the season:
Coach: James Gibson, second season
Last year’s record: 8-18
Record last five years: 99-54 (.647)
Top players: Luke Denton (OPP), Gage Norman (OH/S)
Tournaments: Wolf Howl Invitational (March 2-3); Brophy Invitational (April 13-14)
Notes: The top four leaders in kills from last season return this year. … The 6-foot-6 Denton was named first-team all-region and is a Loyola of Chicago commit. … He led the team with 57 kills, 15 blocks despite playing in only 15 matches. … Norman was second on the team with 39 kills. … Forsgren is back running the program after a one-year hiatus.
Coach: Paul Brown, eighth season
Last year’s record: 1-20
Record last five years: 30-102 (.227)
Top players: Trevor Gelfan (OH/S/OPP)
Tournament: Cougar Volleyball Invitational (March 9-10)
Notes: The Mustangs lose three seniors and return seven players from last year’s roster. … Gelfan was one of the team captains last year. … Dobson looks to reach double digits in victories for the first time since 2013. … Dobson once had 99 kills in a five-set match against Red Mountain in 2011.
Coach: Ray Lewis, second year
Last year’s record: 24-16
Record last five years: 141-59 (.705)
Top players: Jordan Smith (OH/L), Kalani Brubaker (OH/RS), Jothan Castillo (L)
Tournaments: Wolf Howl Invitational (March 2-3); Cougar Volleyball Invitational (March 9-10)/
Notes: The Jackrabbits finished second in the region last season. … Smith and Brubaker are the captains. … Lewis was named Region Coach of the Year last year. … The Jackrabbits finished as state runners-up in 2014.
Coach: Kevin Powell, sixth season
Last year’s record: 27-11
Record last five years: 130-68 (.657)
Top players: Cade Wilfert (MH), Bridger Kimball (S), Talon Randall (OPP/OH), Brigham Taylor (OH)
Tournaments: Wolf Howl Invitational (March 2-3); Brophy Invitational (April 13-14); Westwood Invitational (April 20-21)
Notes: The Toros are coming off the East Valley Region title after going 9-1. … Wilfert was a second-team All-East Valley pick after finishing with 103 kills and a team-high 53 blocks. … Taylor (103 kills), Randall (80 kills) and Kimball (264 assists) were honorable mention selections. … The Toros won the state championship in 2011.
Coach: Kristy Simmons, second season
Last year’s record: 16-9
Record last five years: 52-66 (.441)
Top players: Zachary Spilsbury (OH), Drew Grabek (S/OPP), Quentin Heywood (OPP)
Tournaments: Wolf Howl Invitational (March 2-3); Westwood Dream Catcher (March 9-10); Westwood Invitational (April 20-21)
Notes: Last year’s winning season was the fist since 2012. … The Lions have not had back-to-back winnings seasons during the MaxPreps era (2009). … Spilsbury and Grabek are team captains. … Spilbury was a first-team All-East Valley pick and returns as one of the top players in the area after finishing with 219 kills on 28 percent hitting while also finishing with 92 digs. … Grabek (468 assists) and Heywood (72 kills, 74 digs, 14 aces, 13 blocks) were honorable mention region picks. … Finished as state runners-up in 2003.
Coach: Steve Konvalin, 18th season
Last year’s record: 4-14
Record last 10 years: 40-63 (.388)
Top players: Grant Kennedy (S/OPP), Connor Hopper (MB), Hunter Galish (MB)
Tournament: Westwood Invitational (April 20-21)
Notes: Skyline went 2-8 in region play. … The Coyotes have had one winning season (10-7, 2015) during the MaxPreps era. … Skyline has an 8-2 record, including seven straight wins, versus Dobson since 2009. The Coyotes are 2-41 against the rest of the East Valley Region, having never defeated Mesa, Mountain View. … Kennedy was the Coyotes top distance runner in cross country.
Coach: Brian Hanna, second season
Last year’s record: 18-10
Record last five years: 72-57 (.558)
Top players: Seth Peterson (S), Zerek Stratton (OH)
Tournaments: Westwood Dream Catcher (March 9-10); Westwood Invitational (April 20-21)
Notes: Peterson and Stratton are captains. … Stratton was the only non-senior on the 13-man roster last season so the Warriors are breaking nearly all new varsity players. … Stratton was fourth on the team with 50 kills on a 26.7 hitting percentage. … The Warriors have won at least 18 matches three times in the last five seasons.
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.