The Horizon girls volleyball team only lost one match to an in-state opponent this year, and Nikki Hess could do nothing to stop it.
Instead of being on the court with her teammates, she was in a classroom taking the SAT as Xavier knocked off the Huskies, 25-27, 25-18, 15-7, in the Goldwater Festival Tournament on Oct. 6.
“It was tough,” Hess said. “I got done and turned my phone back on and had three text messages saying we had lost.” But once Hess turned her attention back to volleyball, there was no slowing her or the Huskies.
Horizon finished the season on a 15-match winning streak, which culminated in the Division I state championship. The foe in the finals? That familiar Xavier team.
Hess had a team-high 17 kills and 19 digs in her final match to cap a star-studded career, which resulted in several individual accolades and three state championships. She had 378 kills, 267 digs, 60 aces and 48 blocks on the season to earn the Tribune’s Girls Volleyball Player of the Year.
“I don’t know how she did it but she performed better in every category this year than last,” Horizon coach Valorie McKenzie said.
Hess wasn’t just one of the state’s most feared attackers, but one of its more well-rounded players. As a freshman, she would routinely get substituted out of the game when she rotated to the back row, but worked hard on her defense and passing so she could stay in for every point.
Since her sophomore season, Hess has been a fixture in the lineup, and she takes as much pride in saving points as scoring them.
“Passing and defense are the most important parts of the game,” Hess said. “You can be a big hitter on offense, but you’re not really useful if you’re not stopping people on defense.”
Horizon lost in the championship match to Gilbert last season when Hess was a junior.
The Huskies boasted a strong team from top to bottom this year, but it was Hess who took control and helped lead Horizon to another championship in her last high school match.
“She was focused and ready,” McKenzie said. “(Nerves) are definitely a factor in big games, but she had been to the finals all three times. I remember for Nikki as a freshman it was a little bit of a challenge. This time, it was ‘Give me the ball.’”
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All-Tribune First Team
Name School Yr. Pos. Comment
Nikki Hess Horizon Sr. OH POY led Huskies in kills (378), second in aces (60), added 267 digs
Amanda Benson Xavier Sr. L Expert defender led state in digs with 725; Oregon bound
Izzy Miller Arcadia Sr. MB Boise State-bound star led state in kills (457)
Brittany Thomas Hamilton Sr. OH Leader of Huskies had 408 kills, 55 blocks; Alabama commit
Brooke Honeycutt Desert Vista Sr. MB Thunder standout had 394 kills, 117 blocks
Jensen Barton Arcadia Sr. S/OH Led team in assists (460) and solo blocks (22), second in kills (270)
Player of the year: Nikki Hess, Horizon
Coach of the year: Tricia Melfy, Campo Verde: Quarterfinal playoff exit doesn’t overshadow impressive body of work, including No. 1 seed in Division III tournament.
All-Tribune Second Team
Name School Yr. Pos. Comment
Ally Dell-Amico Campo Verde Sr. OH Coyotes star had 284 kills, 310 digs, 76 aces
Stacey Benton Arcadia Sr. S/OH Standout had 205 kills, 148 aces, 430 assists; Dartmouth-bound
McKayla Ferris Basha Sr. OH Bears star had 389 kills, 240 digs, 61 blocks
Jasmine Hanna Queen Creek Jr. OH Fourth in state with 4.8 kills per set for Bulldogs
Marinda Killeen Horizon Sr. S Had 636 assists, 223 digs, 50 aces for champs
Alexa Saba Hamilton Sr. L Chandler district POY had 425 digs; San Diego State commit
Honorable mention (locals only)
Desert Vista: Lexi Glover, So., L; Sydney Schumacher, Sr., OH/L; Mountain Pointe: Kendall Gray, So., MB; Kayla Meester, Sr., OH; Valley Christian: Lindy Dyer, Sr., OH; Kendra Lorbeck, Jr., S;
Memorable moments from the 2012 season
Horizon wins again: The Huskies reached their fourth straight finals, but had some motivation after losing to Gilbert for the title a season ago. Horizon was the most dominant team in the state all year and cemented that standing with a 25-21, 25-23, 22-25, 25-20 victory over Xavier for the championship. The Huskies won in the highest classification after 5A-II titles in 2009 and 2010.
Arcadia can’t close it out: The Titans were so close to the Division II title, they could taste it. Arcadia won the first two sets against Flagstaff and had an 18-8 lead in the third, but could never put the nail in the coffin. Flagstaff rallied to win the third game, 25-23, won game four by the same score and the deciding fifth set, 15-10, to claim the title. Arcadia finished as state runners-up for the second straight year.
Campo Verde’s impressive regular season: The Coyotes were thought to be a program on the rise, but few thought it would come this soon. Campo Verde went 27-4 in the regular season and undefeated in power point matches to earn the No. 1 seed in the Division III state tournament. The Coyotes lost a five-set match to eventual state runner-up Safford, but still exceed expectations in only their third varsity season.