The University of Arizona and Ironwood Ridge hosted the first high school “pairs” competition in the nation last year and the two programs got together again on Saturday to cement the CatBox Classic as the premier High School beach volleyball tournament of the spring season.
Besides Ironwood Ridge, Salpointe, Xavier, Coconino, Corona del Sol, Desert Edge and Highland all came together to form 32 pairs divided into eight pools. Although the pairs were attached to teams, there was no team competition which meant pairs from the same school went up against each other in bracket play.
Since the University of Arizona was in Texas for the TCU Tournament, head coach Steve Walker was unavailable to comment on the turnout this year but he was more than thrilled with the invitational last year. "All parties involved from coaches to players seem to be really excited of what we have started here and what the future holds," he said.
"This is the first time something like this has been held and it is a great opportunity for everyone to experience our facility and see what the sport has to offer," he added.
Arizona began beach volleyball competition in 2013 with Walker as the program's first coach. His current roster sports three players from Arizona including senior twins McKenna and Madison Witt of Mountain Ridge and freshman Olivia Hallaran of Hamilton.
Competition consisted of Pool Play on Saturday morning followed by Bracket Play in the afternoon. Matches were played to 21 with pairs switching sides every seven points. The Gold Championship was played to 28.
The top Xavier Prep pair of Macy Gordon and Cierra Flood finished 6-0 through pool play and bracket play to qualify for the Gold Championship where they were matched up against the top duo from Salpointe, Alanna Duarte and Peyton Lewis. Duarte and Lewis also went undefeated heading into the final.
Xavier built an 11-8 lead early on but Salpointe responded with four straight points, including two aces, to take a 12-11 lead. The two teams battled back and forth until a block from Gordon put Xavier up 21-19.
Duarte put down two kills in a row and the two teams went down the stretch tied 21-21. Gordon came up with a score and then an ace to help Xavier go back up 23-21 but a net serve put Salpointe right back in the match.
Xavier would eventually go on to take a 26-24 lead but a score by Duarte kept things undecided until Gordon came down with back-to-back kills for the 28-25 win.
Gordon and Flood won the CatBox Classic competition last year also,
The AIA was the first organization in the nation to host high school sand volleyball competition and Xavier won the first state team championship in 2012. The Gators have gone on to win five championships in a row including a victory over Salpointe in the Division I state championship last spring.
Salpointe and Ironwood Ridge are the only programs from Southern Arizona competing in beach volleyball, although talks are underway to build a facility at Ironwood Ridge to host Canyon del Oro and Amphitheater. Rincon/University has also expressed some interest in the past.
The top Ironwood Ridge pair, Jaclyn Inclan and Hanna Stephens, made it to the semifinal round in the Gold Bracket and did the Xavier pair of Shannon Shields and Alyna Draper.
Maggie and Kat Scheppelman won the Silver Bracket for Salpointe over Nicole Feltman and Chloe Dalton of Ironwood Ridge. Avery Wright and Abby Allen of Highland won the Bronze Bracket over Taylor Sarnocinski and Sienna Fuentevilla of Salpointe.
The state tournament starts on Tuesday, Apr. 18 for D-II action and Wednesday, April 19 for D-I.