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Estrella Foothills boys' volleyball team poised for championship run

It was 2020, and Goodyear Estrella Foothills was ready to start its first boys volleyball season. Then, before tossing up its first serve, it ended. The season was over before it started. COVID-19 took away the excitement.

The Wolves, along with every Arizona high school, had their spring season wiped out.

And, so they had to take a step back, wait a year, and get back in the gym and go to work.

Now, in their third season, they are 12-1, ranked No.5 this week by the Arizona Interscholastic Association in 4A and ready to make their mark in the growing sport in the West Valley.

Ryan Bugs jumps up for a hit during practice with the Estrella Foothills High School boys' volleyball team on March 27, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.
Ryan Bugs jumps up for a hit during practice with the Estrella Foothills High School boys' volleyball team on March 27, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.

They're riding volleyball momentum from the girls team that, for the first time, won the 4A state championship in November.

"Especially with the girls winning state, they represent the West Valley, as well," said senior outside hitter Ryan Bugs, who leads Estrella Foothills with 111 kills. "Whether it's the coaches, who coach both the men's and women's teams here, it just goes to show the West Valley can do it, too."

Estrella Foothills, since it began playing boys volleyball in 2021, has gone 48-11. Last year, they reached the state playoffs for the first time, before losing to Prescott.

This year, the Wolves, with most of their top players back, believe they can go much deeper, even maybe all the way, behind Bugs, senior right-side hitter Brenden Matteson, and libero Jace Carroll.

Setter Brenden Matteson practices with the Estrella Foothills High School boys' volleyball team on March 27, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.
Setter Brenden Matteson practices with the Estrella Foothills High School boys' volleyball team on March 27, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.

About five years ago, boys basketball coach Rich Gutwein pushed for the school to have a boys volleyball team. His star player, 7-foot-1 Noah Amenhauser, played the last couple of seasons, but he isn't able to play this spring as he rehabs from knee surgery on his torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"It just made a lot of sense," Gutwein said. "All the junior high schools in our area were playing boys volleyball. Mr. (Bill) Wright (the athletic director) supported it, and Coach (Michael) Matteson has done a great job building the program.

"It’s consistent with our school’s philosophy of wanting to encourage multi-sport athletes. It’s been cool to see the program grow and have such great success."

Carroll, a junior basketball player, was already playing on volleyball teams in the seventh grade.

Libero Jace Carrol passes during practice with the Estrella Foothills boys' volleyball team on March 27, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.
Libero Jace Carrol passes during practice with the Estrella Foothills boys' volleyball team on March 27, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.

"I think we're going to go far this year," Carroll said.

Several of the players compete for Matrix, a boys club volleyball team based in Surprise.

Bugs said the balance, depth and versatility of this team have been key. Defensive chemistry and the work ehtic, either in the weight room or in the gym, are paying off.

Bugs is supported offensively by sophomore Jalen Wadleigh, who has 87 kills.

"It's not like we're coming into the gym, and they're saying, 'Oh, they only have one outside hitter,' " Brenden Matteson said. "We can set up anybody and they know how to terminate the ball."

Outside hitter Ryan Bugs (right) passes during practice with the Estrella Foothills boys' volleyball team on March 27, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.
Outside hitter Ryan Bugs (right) passes during practice with the Estrella Foothills boys' volleyball team on March 27, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.

Michael Matteson, who coaches with the Matrix club team, has seen boys volleyball grow in the West Valley. And Estrella Foothills is embracing the growth. He said several of the players were on his Matrix team that qualified for nationals.

Avondale Agua Fria is another West Valley school that has really seen boys volleyball take off. It is ranked No. 8 by the AIA in 4A.

"I feel like this is our best shot (at state)," said Coach Matteson, who was coaching at Buckeye Youngkers, before coming to Estrella Foothills when his son started high school and wanted to go there. "I feel like I'm better this year with this personnel."

Last year, Phoenix Sandra Day O'Connor put Arizona on the national map after it won the Best of the West Invitational in March 2022, earning a No. 1 ranking in the nation. It ended up the top boys high school volleyball team in the country, capping the season with a state championship win over Gilbert Highland.

Head coach Michael Matteson stands on a box as he leads his boys' volleyball team in practice at Estrella Foothills High School on March 27, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.
Head coach Michael Matteson stands on a box as he leads his boys' volleyball team in practice at Estrella Foothills High School on March 27, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.

This year, Highland is ranked No. 1 in the AIA's first 6A rankings, followed by Brophy Prep, Perry, Chandler, then O'Connor.

The core of Highland's team has played together for six years, counting club volleyball. They won the Kellis tournament and went 5-2 in the silver bracket of the Best of the West in California.

Highland is currently ranked No. 9 nationally.

"Volleyball has definitely grown in Arizona," Highland coach Jeff Grover said. "I've been coaching high school volleyball for 25 years and it's in a really good place right now and it keeps getting bigger every year."

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert atrichard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter@azc_obert

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: West Valley boys volleyball taking off with Estrella Foothills