It has reached the state championship match four consecutive seasons, winning three of them. It already is known as the big, bad program no other squad can match up with.
But even though there was all that talent in the past four years, this season’s Phoenix Horizon team is the one people were waiting for, the one people were scared of.
Horizon is expected to repeat as Division I champions after returning seven key seniors, six of them ranging from 6 feet 1 to 6-4. Five of those players are committed to Division I college programs, and it’ll likely be six by the end of the season.
“We have athletic, tall players who will be aggressive on both sides of the net,” Horizon coach Valorie McKenzie said. “We will be using a variety of offensive systems this year to accommodate our versatility and our big hitters.”
Leading the way in the middle is returning All-Arizona player Jensen Cunningham, a 6-4 San Diego State commit who surprised many with her versatility last season as someone who was as comfortable digging the ball and making the perfect pass as she was near the net blocking or thundering down a hit.
“Jensen will open up some eyes again this season as her dominant play will allow us to use her both as an outside hitter and in the middle,” McKenzie said.
The two other senior middle blockers are Tess Clark, who is 6-4 and committed to Louisville, and Natalie Tardy, who is 6–2 and committed to Grand Canyon.
Horizon will dominate in the middle. But just because it can, it’ll do it on the outside as well. The first option there will be 6-1 Sierra Nobley, a four-year starter, Division I All-State second-team player in 2012 and a Boise State commit.
“She’s a pivotal player for us again this year,” McKenzie said. “Sierra will be our power hitter and top passer as well as keep the team on task with her leadership abilities.”
Opposite of Nobley will be another 6-4 senior in Christine Johnson.
Being tasked to keep all these hitters happy will be returning starting setter Lauren Conati, a 6-2 senior committed to Cal State-Northridge.
Jordan Anderson, a libero/setter, also returns to start for the third consecutive season.
Oh, and the talent doesn’t stop there. Horizon received two transfers who starred at other schools.
Junior setter Roxanne Lake started her first two seasons at Chandler Hamilton.
Junior libero/defensive specialist Gabrielle Contreras was a Division II All-State second-team player at Glendale Ironwood last season.
Though this may be the best Horizon team yet, McKenzie hopes it will still carry on what prior Horizon teams did.
“If we can maintain the work ethic and passion demonstrated in the past,” she said, “this group should progress to once again be a contender.”