It’s time for a bit of a reprieve before the girls volleyball season gets serious.

Mountain Pointe, Desert Vista and Horizon Honors are participating in the Nike Tournament of Champions, hosted by Hamilton, Friday and Saturday.

It’s a chance to take a break from the regular season schedule, mix things up with the lineup and fine tune a few things before the final two weeks of the season.

“It comes at a good time, just before playoffs,” Thunder coach Molly West said. “I don’t want to play Arizona teams. We want to play out-of-state teams and get some experience for our younger players.”

Pride coach Karen Gray is taking a similar approach as the first-year Mountain Pointe coach searches for the one thing all coaches want — consistency.

“I thought we’d win everything,” she said with a laugh. “When you coach at the club level every player is selected and of the same age. At the varsity level, you have players of all ages and abilities and they bring different things to the table. One minute you are excited a player is a freshman and other times you are like, she’s just a freshman.

“Consistency is all we want. It’s something we are looking for and playing great teams at an event like this will help with that.”

The Thunder (22-5 entering this week) has been pretty consistent at winning as they started the year with 14 straight wins and have gone 8-5 since losing only to teams much like Desert Vista that expect to be playing for a state title at the end of the year.

The Gilbert tournament last week was an elite Arizona field and Desert Vista came away with a 4-3 record, losing to Xavier, Horizon and Hamilton.

“We are doing well and still getting better,” West said. “Every match was tough and it was a good indicator of where we need to improve. We need to get better at the net and be smarter with our offensive ball control. We have to fine tune and play smarter volleyball.”

Individually, Vanessa Wesley, who has received an appointment to West Point, has been one of the state’s top hitters while Lexi Glover, who set a team record with 50 digs against Centennial, continues to be one of the state’s top liberos.

The team, which is No. 3 in the power rankings at 10-1, as a whole has had a great approach and chemistry can’t be questioned by anyone who has seen their lip synching video posted on the team’s website.

“This has really been a nice group of girls,” West said. “I really enjoy this team and the way they approach every day.”

Mountain Pointe hasn’t had as much success on the court, but began the week with a 14-10 overall record while playing one of the most difficult tournament schedules.

The Pride, who were No. 8 with 8-2 in power rankings after fall break, had a lull as they got close to the break after a tough loss to Corona del Sol led to a rough patch at the Gilbert tournament.

“We kind of got in a tailspin and it hurt our play at Gilbert,” Gray said. “Then we came back and beat Mountain Ridge and we got back on track. We are looking forward to playing some new teams and get some things worked out.”

The Pride is using a mostly young lineup with only three contributing seniors. It has led to some inconsistency, but overall Gray is happy with how Mountain Pointe has come along in this year of transition.

“We have this machine running,” she said. “I am learning with every match and they are learning with every match. We are doing some things differently now compared to the start of the season.

“I’ve talked all season about the mental game. We have to be equally mentally strong as physically strong. We are getting there.”

The Pride has been led by Kendall Gray (131 kills), Kaylah Lupoe (45 blocks) and Christine Winkelman (148 kills).

“They’ve really been our most consistent players,” coach Gray said. “They’ve been very steady and hopefully we can get everyone to level.”

Horizon Honors (12-5) has been led by Blaykleigh Smythe, Savannah Cunningham, Alex Smythe, Danielle Moran and Lindsay Zumwalt.

The Eagles are 9-3 in power ranking matches and are in the 12th spot in Division IV.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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