Arizona’s top high school volleyball players: Meet the state’s best setters

This week, we’re taking a position-by-position look at some of the top players in Arizona high school volleyball. Our second list focuses on the setters.

There are hundreds of standout volleyball players in Arizona and these lists are not intended to be comprehensive. Use the comments section to discuss the other setters who have starred in 2020.

Bianca Perez photo courtesy of Millennium High School

Earlier: Liberos

Alexa Shiner, jr., Xavier Prep

Shiner, an all-Premier 6A second-team selection as a sophomore, ranks among the 6A leaders, averaging 8.7 assists per set (444 total) with 147 digs and 19 aces for the Gators, who have a bye into the state tournament bracket. “Alexa is a determined athlete who takes pride in everything she does,” Xavier Prep coach Lamar-Renee Bryant said. “She works hard to get her hands on every ball and loves to be a part of a team. As a junior captain, she has learned how to lead her team and takes pride in doing the work to get better.”  

Alexa Shiner / Xavier College Preparatory

Annie Hansen, sr., Westwood

Hansen was a second-team all-East Valley 6A selection a year ago who played a big role in getting the Warriors back into the postseason after a one-year absence.

Annika Wallace, sr., Mesquite

Wallace was a second-team all-Desert Sky 4A pick last season, helping the Wildcats qualify for the state tournament for a fourth consecutive year. They’re in the play-in round again this fall, with Wallace ranking third in the conference with 366 assists (eight per set) to go with 89 digs and 17 blocks. She’s serving 94.9 percent with 34 aces.

Aria Bossone, sr., Scottsdale Prep

A first-team all-Central 2A selection as a junior, Bossone ended the regular season leading the state with 569 assists (10.5 per set). She has 142 digs and serves at a 93.4 percent clip, ranking among the state leaders in aces with 58.

Bianca Perez, jr., Millennium

Perez went from sharing setting duties with second-team all-Desert West 5A pick Hannah Waters a year ago to becoming the primary setter this fall. She’s more than doubled her assists per set to 8.6 (fourth in the conference), and her 387 assists rank fifth in 5A. She has 26 blocks, 110 digs and 22 aces (89.6 percent serving) and helped the Tigers earn an automatic berth in the state tournament.

Brandy Kishbaugh, sr., Salpointe Catholic

Kishbaugh was second in 4A in assists last season, when she earned first-team all-Kino honors, but the Lancers had their three-year run of reaching the state final snapped with a first-round loss. This fall, she ranks fourth in the conference with 364 assists, and she shares the 4A lead with 9.1 assists per set. She has 52 aces and 26 kills. 

Brianna Wyttenback, sr., Amphitheater

A second-team all-conference pick as a junior despite the Panthers failing to make the 4A playoffs, Wyttenback has played a big part in getting them back to the postseason this fall. She averages nearly seven assists per set, finishing the regular season with 244 assists, 32 aces and 18 kills in leading Amphitheater to a second Gila Region title in her four-year career. “She has worked so incredibly hard over the last four years. She demands the most from her teammates and sets the tone for games and practices,” Panthers coach Samantha Reynolds said. “Six of our 11 players have played together since seventh grade, creating a unique bond that is evident on and off the court.” 

Diana Ethridge / Hamilton High School

Briley Decker, jr., Mountain View (Mesa)

Decker earned first-team all-East Valley 6A honors a year ago as the Toros won the first of back-to-back region titles and advanced to the state tournament main draw for the first time since 2014. They secured a spot this year with one of the eight automatic berths.

Brooke Cowie, sr., Pinnacle

Cowie was a first-team all-Desert Valley 6A selection in 2019 and this season helped the Pioneers win a share of the region title for the second consecutive year, ranking among the conference leaders in assists (seventh, 429) and assists per set (9.1, fifth). She had 127 digs, 23 blocks, 26 aces and 38 kills.

Brooke Parker, sr., Coconino

Parker splits time between setter and outside hitter, earning second-team all-conference honors for the Panthers at setter in 2019 as they narrowly missed qualifying for the 4A state tournament, losing in five sets in the play-in round. They’re back in the play-in round this year, with Parker averaging 4.8 assists per set (159 total) while in the back row and 2.3 kills (76 total) along the front. She has a .927 serving percentage with 29 aces.

Denae Pitts, sr., Notre Dame Prep

Pitts played alongside first-team all-Northeast Valley 5A setter Jessica Skemp last year, earning all-region honorable mention as the Saints reached the state semifinals. She also organized the team to speak in a British accent all season. “First day, it was cute. First week, amusing,” Saints coach Holly McLean said. “After a month, a little annoying, but by the end of the season, without breaking character, very impressive.” 

This fall, Pitts moved into the No. 1 role as Notre Dame Prep dropped down to 4A, where it went unbeaten during the regular season and Pitts led the conference along with Salpointe Catholic’s Brandy Kishbaugh with 9.1 assists per set, finishing with 419 assists, 81 digs, 29 kills and 20 aces (92.2% serving). More important, “on Day 1 of this year, they announced they were American for this season!” McLean said. “I credit that to Denae’s leadership, what she can bring out of people and how she can bring them together.” 

Diana Ethridge, sr., Hamilton

Ethridge took advantage of the plethora of offensive talent surrounding her, leading 6A by averaging 10.8 assists per set and finishing second in the conference with 506 assists (fourth across all conferences). She also ranked among state leaders in serving percentage (98.2% with 32 aces) and had 96 digs.

Eliana Couillard, jr., Tempe Prep

What a difference a year made for the Knights, who failed to make the 2A state playoffs last year but earned the No. 5 seed in the 1A tournament this season, with Couillard leading the way. She overcame an injured shoulder (suffered while diving for a ball) that sidelined her for nearly two weeks to finish with 300 assists (8.3 per set) and 81 digs, 24 kills and 22 aces while serving 94.6 percent. “She was out, but she still came to every practice to support her team and work with our trainer,” Tempe Prep coach Natalie Rockwell said. “Eliana is the hardest-working athlete I’ve ever coached.”

Eliana Couillard / Tempe Preparatory Academy

Ellie Fenderson, sr., Prescott

Fenderson had a breakthrough senior season after earning second-team all-Grand Canyon 4A honors last fall. She led the conference in assists with 494 (fifth overall), and her 8.5 per set average ranked third in 4A. She had 63 kills with a .333 hitting percentage, 33 aces with a .937 serving percentage and 109 digs.

Ellie Hancock, soph., Mogollon

The Mustangs have played for a 1A state championship each of the past four seasons, winning it all in 2018, and Hancock is the latest setter to put them in line for another title shot. She earned first-team all-conference honors as a freshman, and this fall she has 347 assists (third in 1A), averaging 7.1 per set to go with 76 aces and 45 kills.

Emma Swartz, sr., Greenway

Swartz became a setter out of necessity her freshman year and played behind all-conference first-team setter Avery Richard as a sophomore, when the Demons won the 4A state title. She put the lessons learned to work last fall, earning first-team all-conference honors as Greenway successfully defended its title. Before heading to Division III Messiah College in Pennsylvania next year, she hopes to lead the Demons to a three-peat. She has 289 assists (6.1 per set), 72 kills, 129 digs and 32 aces with a .940 serving percentage. “She didn’t pick up setting until when we needed one, and now she is one of the top setters in the state because she is one of the most coachable players I have ever coached,” Greenway coach Sarah Peterson said. “She is also an amazing person inside and out. Her smile lights up the gym.” 

Emma Swartz / Greenway High School

Hannah Morris, sr., Cienega

Morris was a second-team all-Southern 5A selection in 2019 and has helped the Bobcats clinch an automatic berth in the state tournament this year. She finished the regular season with 172 assists (4.9 per set), 59 digs, 42 kills and 16 aces.

Holly Gialketsis, sr., Chandler Prep

Gialketsis bided her time as the Titans’ No. 2 setter last year behind all-conference second-teamer Sydney Thacker. She took over the starting job this season and is third in 2A with 433 assists (7.9 per set) to go with 101 digs and 71 aces.

Jaden Drollinger, sr., Queen Creek

Drollinger has nearly surpassed her assist total from 2019, recording 436 assists (sixth in 6A) and averaging 7.8 per set. She has 36 kills, 160 digs and 27 aces with a .905 serving percentage.

Jaelin Reeb, sr., Mountain View (Marana)

Reeb was a second-team all-Sonoran 5A selection a year ago and helped lead the Mountain Lions back to the state play-in round this season, leading the team in assists (240, 5.1 per set) and aces (33, 87.6% serving) and recording 30 blocks, 151 digs and 49 kills.

Jenna Heller, sr., Perry

Heller has built upon a junior season in which she was a second-team all-conference selection and helped the Pumas reach the 6A state final. She leads 6A in assists entering the postseason with 518 (10.4 per set) and has 61 kills, 20 blocks, 103 digs and 26 aces (88.8% serving). Heller, who holds the school record with 2,422 career assists, will follow her parents’ footsteps in attending the University of the Pacific — her mother, Melanie, was a two-time All-American setter who entered the school’s Hall of Fame in 2007, and her father, D.J., played baseball there. Her older brother, Davis, plays baseball at Alabama.

Julia Owens, fr., Corona del Sol

Owens stepped into the breach when two-year starting setter Anita Babic missed the season after undergoing foot surgery, and she has shown few first-year jitters in helping the Aztecs earn the No. 9 seed in the 6A play-in round. She shares setting duties with junior Taylor Erickson, leading the team at 5.3 assists per set (299 total) while serving 93.6 percent with 17 aces and adding 102 digs, third on the team.

Kailin Katena, jr., Valley Vista

Katena earned first-team all-Southwest 6A honors last year as the Monsoon advanced to the conference play-in round. She shared setting duties with senior Hannah Ferreira this fall and led the team with 316 assists (6.3 per set) to go with 100 digs and 23 aces.

Keira Hall, jr., Horizon

Hall earned first-team all-conference honors last year in helping the Huskies reach the 5A state quarterfinals. This season, the Northern Arizona commit notched her 1,000th career assist en route to leading the conference and ranking No. 2 in the state with 549 assists (10 per set). The Northeast Valley player of the year also had 54 kills, 24 aces with a .955 serving percentage, 24 blocks and 157 digs. 

Keira Hall / Horizon High School

Kenzie Carpenter, sr., Valley Christian

Carpenter last year helped lead the Trojans to their first state final in the past decade — they lost to Northwest Christian in the 3A title match — and earned first-team all-Metro West honors. This season, she’s second in the conference with 332 assists (6.9 per set) to go with 65 digs, 40 kills and 57 aces (95.3% serving).

Kylee Carnes, sr., Payson

Right behind Carpenter on the conference assists leaderboard is Carnes, who played libero for the Longhorns last season. This year, she splits time between setter and right-side hitter and has 301 assists (5.9 per set) along with 101 kills, 193 digs and 29 aces (.910 serving percentage).

Kyrstin Miller, sr., Verrado

Miller was a first-team all-Desert West 5A selection while sharing time with Arlette Acosta-Perez last year. This season, Miller had the job mostly to herself, and she averaged 5.1 assists per set (266 total) with 117 digs, 34 aces (95.4% serving) and 31 kills.  

Lexi Lambert, jr., Scottsdale Christian

Lambert is a two-time all-conference selection, taking over after the Eagles won their first state title in an 11-year span. She received honorable mention as a freshman and first-team honors as a sophomore, leading them to 2A championships each year. They’re poised to become the first Arizona school to win four in a row since Sunnyslope and Seton Catholic each won four consecutive crowns from 2008-11. 

Luci Roberts, sr., Rancho Solano Prep

Roberts, a second-team all-Metro 2A selection last year for the state quarterfinalist Mustangs, helped Rancho Solano Prep earn an automatic berth in the state tournament this season by finishing second in the conference in assists (462, 6.9 per set) and aces (80, .915 serving percentage). 

Madeline Stein, soph., Willow Canyon

The Wildcats are back in the 5A playoffs after a one-year absence thanks in part to Stein’s emergence. She improved her assists-per-set average from 4.8 to 7.3 this season, with her 416 assists ranking third in the conference. She is a 97.2 percent server with 22 aces.

Mariah Cable, sr., Desert Ridge

Cable ranked among 6A leaders all season in setting, finishing with 377 assists (eight per set), 74 digs, 25 kills and 22 aces with a .951 serving percentage. She recently committed to University of Saint Katherine, an NAIA school in Marcos, Calif., and Jaguars coach Anthony Millanes warned her future teammates about sitting too close to her on long bus rides. “Never ride in a car with Mariah, because she plays the license plate game and slaps you when you’re driving,” he joked. 

Maycee Mercado, fr., Eastmark

Mercado helped lead the newly opened Mesa school to the 3A play-in round in its second season, finishing among the conference leaders in assists (332, tied for second) and assists per set (7.4, second) to go with 152 digs, 31 kills and 38 aces (90.9% serving).

Molly Kipp, sr., Northwest Christian

Kipp earned first-team all-conference honors each of the past two seasons, leading the Crusaders to back-to-back 3A state titles. The Baylor commit led the conference this fall in assists (391) and assists per set (8.7) while also serving 33 aces with a .932 serving percentage. “The connection Molly has with our hitters is what allows us to have a great team,” Northwest Christian coach Jenna Hope said. “She has always had great hands and amazing athleticism, but this year, she has really clicked everything together. She has the confidence to run risky sets, can push the ball across the court with ease, and isn’t afraid to be aggressive in defense. She sees the block and adjusts to hitter matchups through the game.” 

Molly Kipp / Northwest Christian School

Morgan Sanner, sr., Gilbert

With first-team all-San Tan 5A setter Lyndsee Baxter sidelined for most of the season, Sanner was pressed into duty for the Tigers, and she delivered in a big way. She finished second in the conference with 439 assists, averaging nearly 10 per set, and served 29 aces with an .880 serving percentage to help lead Gilbert to the 5A play-in round.

Najelah Kirk / Thunderbird High School

Najelah Kirk, sr., Thunderbird

Kirk has played varsity all four years for the Chiefs and moved to setter last season, quickly taking to the position after playing middle and right side her first two years and earning first-team all-Skyline 4A honors. This season, with coach Carly Whitehead (a former setter) mentoring Kirk, she ranks sixth in the conference with 299 assists (7.1 per set) to go with 75 digs, 21 aces and 12 blocks. “We worked on developing her mental game and how to run a court,” Whitehead said. “She has had so much growth and become a key player on the team. She also brings her own catchphrases to the team like ‘as she should!’”

Natalie Palmer, sr., Highland

Palmer earned second-team all-conference honors last year in helping the Hawks reach the 6A state semifinals for the first time. This season, she ranks among conference leaders in assists (453, third), assists per set (9.4, fourth), aces (29, 12th) and digs (163, most among setters). She has 58 kills with a .312 hitting percentage, leading coach Jordan Neal to call her “the most skilled six-skill setter” in Arizona. Neal identified her early in her career as a future leader, and as a freshman, she was thrown into the fire in a midseason match against Rincon after starting setter Alayna Roberts called in sick. “I tell Natalie, and her face turns sheet-white, terrified,” Neal recalled. “Then she went out and had 38 assists, four aces, 14 digs, and led us to a four-set win. That confirmed what we already knew — that girl had ice in her veins and was going to lead us to a lot of wins.”

Natalie Palmer / Donna Mundy

Nayeli Mancilla, sr., Estrella Foothills

Mancilla earned all-conference first-team honors last fall, helping to lead the Wolves to the 4A state championship match. This year, the Western New Mexico commit shared setting duties with sophomore Raegan Moran, leading the team with 202 assists (4.7 per set) and tallying 84 digs and 25 aces (91.5% serving). Not bad for someone who entered the program with no setting experience and became a four-year starter. “She has embraced the position and worked really hard at becoming the best she can be,” coach Jennifer Gonazles said.

Nicole Kao, jr., Glendale Prep

Kao was a freshman two years ago when her older sister, Caitlin, set the Griffins to the 2A state final, where they lost to Scottsdale Christian. When Caitlin went down with an injury last season, Nicole stepped in and earned second-team all-Central honors. With Caitlin having graduated, Nicole entered the season knowing she would be the No. 1 setter and has thrived, finishing fourth in the conference in assists (363) and second in assists per set (10.4) to go with 53 digs and 27 aces (92.5% serving).

Sidney Parks, soph., Cactus Shadows

Parks earned second-team all-Northeast Valley 5A honors as a freshman, helping to lead the Falcons to the state quarterfinals. She shared setting duties with junior Isabella Quinn this fall and led the team with 290 assists (5.8 per set) to go with 69 digs and 29 aces (94.7% serving).

Sophia Gomez, sr., Ironwood Ridge

Gomez played behind second-team all-conference setter Kianna Swingle last year as the Nighthawks maintained their streak of 5A state tournament appearances. This season, they earned an automatic berth while Gomez seized the No. 1 setter role, finishing fourth in the conference with 405 assists (9.2 per set) while serving at a .945 clip with 20 aces. She had 90 digs and 27 kills.

Taylor Aguano, sr., Chandler

Aguano last year earned second-team all-Premier 6A honors behind the two setters who played in the state title match — Perry’s Jenna Heller and Basha’s Aspen Aldous. Aguano might join Heller on the first team this fall after ranking among the conference leaders all season — she’s eighth with 403 assists (7.9 per set) to go with 108 digs, 26 blocks, 23 kills and 26 aces (93.4% serving).

Nayeli Mancilla / Estrella Foothills High School

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