PHOENIX - The Desert Vista girls volleyball team entered Saturday's Class 5A Division I state semifinals knowing it was going to be difficult to knock off top-seeded Phoenix Xavier.
The Thunder were overmatched but undeterred against the three-time defending champions in a three-game sweep at North Canyon High as the Gators won 25-18, 25-19 and 25-11.
Xavier advances to take on third-seeded Hamilton on Wednesday at Mesquite High in attempt to win its fifth title in six seasons.
Desert Vista didn't bring its best game by any means. There wasn't the usual aggression on attacks, the defense was a bit slow on getting to digs and there were a lot of on-court apologies for miscommunication or hesitation.
That formula pretty much assures a quick night against Xavier (40-5).
"That wasn't our team," Desert Vista coach Molly West said. "I don't know if it was the atmosphere, our youth but we never got things going."
In Game 1, Xavier opened up a 9-5 lead before a Thunder timeout and then pushed it to 15-7. Desert Vista closed within 20-14 but that's as close as it got.
Game 2 was much of the same as Xavier gained a 9-5 advantage before West took a timeout. It led to 7-3 run by the Thunder but the 12-10 deficit was the best Desert Vista could do before Xavier closed it out.
The third game was all the Gators as they pushed out to a 14-4 lead before ending the Thunder's season.
"We came in here thinking we were going to take it," West said. "We played them tough (losing twice) during the season. We weren't happy to just be here and then go home."
Xavier, which has one loss (Phoenix Sunnyslope) against Arizona competition, played a great defensive game, getting to digs most team never get to and had only a handful of unforced errors.
"Our goal is the keep the ball within the system," Xavier coach Tim McHale said. "A lot of teams are just satisfied getting the dig. What we do, even balls that our dug go into our system so we establish the middle. When know if we feed our setter within the system it will give us one-on-one situations and put us in a good position."
Caitlin Downs and Abby Hornacek were the benefactors of that system against the Thunder as they continually had momentum-changing kills.
The Thunder (29-14) are setup for the future with four sophomores and a freshman getting major playing time and experience.
It bodes well for the future, but after Saturday's match the focus was on the four seniors.
McKella Williams and Renae Sneigowski were captains with Erika White and Aubrey Lafountain providing experienced depth.
"These players had great careers, got a chance to experience a title game (2008), and made the final four," West said. "It's hard because I can't fix it (the emotion of losing) for them. I feel bad because they didn't play their best and forced them to beat us."
Desert Vista junior Riley Smith said the future is bright for the Thunder because the outgoing seniors showed them the way.
"They led us the whole season and inspired us," Smith said. "We wanted to win for them, but we didn't play with the fire we needed to beat them."