Both Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high school girls’ volleyball programs have had its fair share of success on the court in recent years.
In 2016, the Pride finished as the runner-up in the 6A Conference after falling to Corona del Sol in the title game. A year later, Mountain Pointe made it to the semifinals before running into yet another hot Aztec squad.
Meanwhile, Desert Vista won back-to-back state titles in 2014-15 under coach Molly West, who now enters her 24th season leading the Thunder volleyball program.
In what will be a season of firsts for both programs, the Pride and Thunder are a confident bunch heading into the 2019 season.
Mountain Pointe was led by a new head coach this season when they took on Valley Vista on Tuesday in its season opener, as Karen Gray stepped down to watch her daughter play collegiately.
This season marks the first time the Pride have a new head coach since 2013, when Gray took over the program for Fred Mann, who is now the coach at Perry High School.
Taking over for Gray is Andrew Yamashiro, a familiar face of the program as he spent the last four seasons as an assistant under Gray. It’s been a relatively smooth transition from Gray to Yamashiro, as he is familiar with each of the girls’ style of play and overall personality.
“Overall, I think it’s been an easy change,” Yamashiro said. “I have a ton of respect for the girls and they have the same respect for me. There will be a culture change of us being aggressive all the time.”
Yamashiro has relied heavily on two of his senior leaders to help direct the group this season.
Senior middle blocker Kahrizma Kyles and senior opposite Desiray Armstrong are stepping into the captain roles this season for the Pride, taking over for Piper Manross and Avery Luoma, who both went on to play Division I volleyball after graduation.
Both girls admit that it is a special honor to be looked upon by their new coach as leaders, especially for Kyles. The 5-foot-11 senior played in just two matches last season, as she suffered a torn ACL in the first set against Skyline on Aug. 30, 2018.
After a year away, she’s eager to prove she has what it takes to still compete at a high level for her team this season.
“I just want it to be a fun year with my team,” Kyles said. “Since it’s my last year, I just want to make the most of it. I hate losing, all I ever want to do is win.”
Armstrong was one of several girls to step up in Kyles absence last season. She had a team-high 149 blocks, 89 kills and 16 aces as a junior.
The coaching change has brought along even more changes for Mountain Pointe. Four seniors graduated from last year’s team, while some girls decided to transfer out of the program.
A core group of girls still remain, however. Armstrong believes the changes has actually brought the team closer together, and they’re eager to prove that Mountain Pointe volleyball is still among one of the premier programs in the state.
“We’re the underdog,” Armstrong said. “We’ve proven ourselves in the past and we can do it again. It’s just another one of those seasons.”
Desert Vista struggled to find its footing last season, finishing 18-22 after a first-round loss to Corona del Sol in the tournament.
But last season’s Thunder team was young, as they were without any seniors, a rarity in prep sports. But with an established group of leaders this season, coach Molly West believes her team has the ability to go back to the Thunder of old.
“We’ve had some young players for a couple years so it will be nice to have some maturity,” West said. “It’s a whole new attitude in this gym. I think this is a special group. I think people might be looking past us and we have the ability to surprise some people.”
Desert Vista will be led this season by its two captains, seniors Jennifer Soto and Brooke Blutreich. The two were the top scorers for the Thunder last season, combining for 641 kills.
Blutreich also had a team-high 44 aces, while Soto led the team in blocks with 97.
The chemistry the two shares with one another both on and off the court has spread to the rest of the Thunder team. They’re best friends in and outside of school, constantly hanging out.
It’s the type of relationship that has both Blutreich and Soto confident in their team’s ability to compete with some of the best this season.
“This is probably one of the closest teams we’ve had,” Blutreich said. “We are best friends. We can’t wait to get out on the court together and play.”
Desert Vista will begin its season on Wednesday night against Pinnacle, a test in itself as the Pioneers return several starters from last year’s quarterfinals team. But there is a certain mindset each of the Thunder girls have this season.
For several of them, this will be their last chance at a state title before graduation. They plan to go all out in order to achieve their goal.
“The past couple years have been a bit of a struggle for this program,” Soto said. “But this year we feel like we have something going. We believe we can build on that.
“It will be a lot of fun.”