Xavier Prep wins historic Arizona sand title

By Walter Villa

For some, the state championship won Tuesday by Xavier Prep (Phoenix, Ariz.) wasn’t just historic, it was profound and far-reaching.

Xavier defeated Fountain Hills (Ariz.) 5-0 at Victory Lanes Sports Park in Glendale, Ariz., capping the first high school season of sand volleyball in U.S. history.

“It was so cool to be a part of this whole season,” said Xavier’s Natalie Braun, who teamed with Mallory Miller to win their title match. “It was life-changing.”

When asked why she would consider her life altered by this first season of sand volleyball, Braun said she had previously wanted to play the indoor version of the sport in college.

Now she wants to play sand volleyball.

“There is such a great atmosphere playing outdoors,” said Braun, a 5-foot-7 freshman. “It’s just way different. With just two players, you have to build an all-around skill set. In indoor, you mostly focus on one. I want to be one of those all-around players.”

Braun said several -- but not all -- of her teammates told her that they, too, have switched their focus to sand volleyball. That includes elite prospect Abby Hornacek, who had originally committed to play indoor at Kansas before switching to a sand volleyball scholarship at Southern Cal.

Hornacek teamed with Mia Teilborg as Xavier Prep went 8-0 this season, sweeping every team except Scottsdale Prep (Ariz.), which they defeated 4-1.

Xavier’s other duos on Tuesday were Kelly Andrew and Sarah Mackey, Alex Parron and Molly Scheel, and Dani Westfall and Chaney Hart.

Those five duos were more than good enough to beat Fountain Hills, which finished its season at 6-2.

“It was 90 degrees and just a great day to play,” Xavier coach Matt Rogers said of the title match. “Fountain Hills wanted redemption because we had beaten them earlier in the season. But we really wanted this first state title, and we went after it.”

Wednesday morning, Hornacek wore her volleyball jersey and spoke to the entire school after her team’s accomplishment.

“I felt comfortable doing it,” said Hornacek, a senior. “I just explained that we represented our school and a new sport. After I spoke, about 50 people came up to me to say congratulations.”

Hornacek said she’s proud of her team.

“Winning the title gave us a great feeling,” she said. “I hope it can be an inspiration to other girls to try the sport. … I think a lot of girls will make the switch once they see how much fun it is to play.

“All I know is that when I’m older, I’m going to look back at the picture of us winning state and be really happy.”