This year’s Highland boys’ volleyball team is motivated to win a state championship. They’ve already been crowned national champions together at the club level, but their main goal since they began playing together six years ago has been to win state. (Dave Minton/GSN Staff)

Highland boys’ volleyball coach Jeff Grover recalls the moment his team was sitting in their hotel in California on March 4 watching senior Hayden Winegar play for the school’s basketball team in the state final.

The game was back-and-forth between the Hawks and Brophy. Highland faced a one-point deficit when senior Brock Knollmiller found Winegar wide open in the corner for a 3-pointer.

He knocked it down. Chaos ensued inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum and hundreds of miles away in California. The cheers continued for the volleyball team as they watched the basketball program celebrate its state title.

Then, the thought hit them. They want that same feeling come May.

“We want to win super bad,” Winegar said. “We haven’t been able to win a state championship together and we’ve gotten really close the past two years. We want to win, so we’re focused.”

This rendition of Highland’s volleyball team is no stranger to success.

The Hawks lost last year in the championship game to Sandra Day O’Connor, a top program nationally at the time. The year before, they made a run to the semifinals and fell yet again to O’Connor. While they’ve struggled to overcome the Eagles the last two years in AIA play, many of the Hawks players — as many as 10 of them — have become the top dogs in club season with their team, Victory.

Eight players from this year’s team won the 16U national championship in 2021. More joined for the team’s run last year to finish among the top five teams in the nation in 17U.

But as great as it felt to hoist the national championship trophy two years ago, in their minds it doesn’t compare to a state title. It’s something many of them have been working toward for the last six years.

“We’ve been practicing every day, every week for a really long time now,” senior outside hitter Jase Adams said. “I think it would be the perfect way to end it.”

Most of the Highland players grew up on the volleyball court together. They’ve played on the same club for several years, all coached by Grover.

The club is meant to be a feeder into Highland, that’s why it’s one of the smallest compared with others around the state and country. Yet, it’s also become one of the best.

One of the key reasons for their success is how close they are as a team. They cheer for one another, they hang out on and off the court. They’ve become a family, a common theme for the Highland program that has seen multiple sets of siblings over the course of the last three or four years.

They work well together. And it shows.

“We’re all best friends,” Winegar said. “We’ve played together since we were in sixth grade, and we do everything together. Our chemistry is really good.”

The first rendition of the volleyball rankings was released Tuesday, March 28. Highland was the top team in the 6A Conference.

The ranking was expected. Not only are the Hawks the top dog in Arizona, but they’re also currently the No. 8 ranked team in the nation, according to MaxPreps. Highland’s ability to gain national recognition stemmed from solid showings in tournaments.

The Hawks went 8-0 in the Kellis Invitational in Glendale and 5-2 overall in California, where they played against some of the other top teams in the country. Those tough matches have prepared them for the rest of the season, where they know they may end up on a collision course with O’Connor or another top team yet again.

“It’s always good to travel, that’s why nationals is fun and traveling out of state in our season is fun,” Grover said. “We want to be able to compete against these other teams and see how we matchup. It was great for the guys. We’ll compete anytime, anywhere.”

Winning a championship is a real possibility for Highland this season. It’s something the seniors want for each other.

It’s also something Grover wants for them. He knew several of his players from the time they were in diapers. He also has his youngest son, Kaleo, on the team as well. It’s the final year he will be able to coach one of his own kids at the high school level.

Grover plans to stay at Highland even with both graduated come May. But coaching his son for the final time and having it end as a state champion would make the tears that are sure to come worth it.

“It would be one of those memories that we have. We’ve got a ton of memories,” Grover said. “He’s done a phenomenal job. It would be something special that we can always talk about.”