The noise never let up. The students never stopped standing. And Gilbert Higley’s boys volleyball players never stopped believing.
After Queen Creek American Leadership twice fought back from one-set deficits, Higley, powered by middle blocker Dreyson Cattani, finally put it away in the fifth set to take its first 5A championship at an overflow Gilbert Mesquite gym on Friday night.
It was the first of a state-championship double-header, as both teams rode an electric atmosphere before Cattani put it away with a powerful overhand across the net that couldn’t be touched.
Higley (22-11) won the final set 15-9. Players then got devoured in the sea of students, who waved white towels throughout the championship match.
“I love the towels,” Cattani said. “I’m a Steelers fan. The Terrible Towels, their fans are amazing.”
Higley’s students and fans created a noise level that was ear splitting.
Higley coach Andrew Yashamiro figured there might be a good turnout after the school held a pep rally in the morning.
“It brought the whole school in,” Yashamiro said. “We asked kids to come out. Everyone came.”
It was the first time the schools met this year, but it had a rivalry atmosphere.
ALA (34-4) won more than twice as many matches than it did last year. Higley was playing in the state final for the first time.
Higley won the first set 25-19 behind Cattani, Zachary Fowkes, Jordan Fowkes, and setter Carter Garrett.
Porter Pace’s strong play at the net sparked ALA to take the second set 25-21.
Higley took the third set 25-21, and ALA fought back for the fourth set 25-18.
Higley built an 8-4 lead in the final set and never let ALA get closer than three points the rest of the way.
“We expected this kind of engagement on both sides,” ALA coach Tim Zemp said. “It was a great, loud environment. It’s a state championship game.”
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Richard Obert, azcentral sports
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