Desert Vista senior Brooke Honeycutt, right, is expected to be one of the state's top middle blockers this year before heading off to Pepperdine.

By Jason P. Skoda, AFN

The girls volleyball season in Ahwatukee had an empty feeling to it.

The two main programs, Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista, still played well and the Dig Pink game was a huge and fun success as always, but there was a void.

The Pride still made the postseason and played just about to its potential, but the Thunder can’t say the same.

Desert Vista, which opened the season last night at home against Hamilton, missed the postseason despite playing one of the state’s toughest schedules and playing its best volleyball at the end of the season.

“It was tough because we felt like we were one of the better teams in the state, especially with the way we were playing at the end of the season,” said Thunder coach Molly West, whose team went 25-14 but didn’t have enough power point wins to qualify. “It will be a motivator this year. We can’t lose those (power point) matches.”

The Thunder definitely has the talent to make up for it as West carries 16 on the roster this year, including eight seniors, partly because injuries that will keep some players out of the rotation early on and partly because it has young talent pushing the upperclassmen.

“It should be a good mix of players,” West said. “The eight seniors know what to expect and the younger players can definitely give us a lift.”

The top players for the Thunder are Pepperdine recruit Brooke Honeycutt, a 6-foot-2 senior middle blocker, senior setter Michelle Steagall, and senior outside hitter Sydney Schumacher.

“They’re something about a senior-dominated team,” West said. “There is a sense of urgency and they play at a different level. It should be a good year.”

Other top contributors should be senior Peyton Shuckhart, junior Vanessa Wesley, sophomore Lexi Glover, and freshman Hailey Harward.

The schedule is the same as last year including tournaments at Westwood, Goldwater and the Nike tournament at Hamilton.

The difference should be the end result.

“It really bothered them,” West said. “I can see (missing out in 2011) working in our favor this year because they are not going to take anything for granted.”

Mountain Pointe is coming off a 24-9 campaign in which the Pride was knocked out in the state quarterfinals by top-seeded Mountain Ridge.

Mountain Pointe, which opened its season last night at Williams Field, has the talent back to make a similar, if not deeper, run in 2012.

“If we can serve receive and make quality passes we are going to be pretty good,” Mann said. “They are getting comfortable with each other and we are finding our way.”

The team’s top returning players are senior outside hitter Kayla Meester, sophomore middle blocker Kendall Gray, senior outside hitter Codi Jacobsen, and senior setter Chandler Hillman.

The Pride will also be counting on freshman setter Jess Leo, whose mother, Jen, was a setter at Arizona State.

“I like this team,” Mann said. “We are getting a lot accomplished (in preseason practice) and I think we will be ready to go.”

Horizon Honors continued to progress under coach Livia Peace Pratt as the team went 21-8 last season and grabbed the fourth seed in the Division I state tournament, but lost in the quarterfinals.

This year’s squad is short on senior leadership with just two on the team, but the Eagles have two very good juniors who saw plenty of time last year to give the squad a solid foundation.

Juniors Madeline Moran and Diana Carlson are versatile players who play setter on their respective clubs teams, but last year for the Eagles played middle blocker and outside hitter, respectively.

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

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