There’s a common theme among high school volleyball coaches preparing for this week’s state tournament.
It’s not easy for coaches to get 15, 16 or 17-year old high school girls to maintain a high level of focus for three days of volleyball, but that’s how you win championships.
The 5A and 6A state tournament, which is held at Utah Valley’s UCCU Center, is a cacophony of sights and sounds with four courts going at once and volleyballs bouncing all over the place, not to mention the pressure of advancing to the next round.
“We identify what ‘volleyball mode’ means for us,” Mountain View coach Jaicee Roden said. “We really try to introduce a lot of distractions at practice. We have multiple courts and whistles going and we play loud distracting music that they like. We have open practices so students can walk in and out, things like that. We’re really trying to create, as much as we can, the state tournament environment.”
Pleasant Grove coach Allyce Jones said her team is focusing inward to prepare for state.
“We really try to focus on ourselves and eliminate distractions,” she said. “Seniority is always the best way to go with leadership in doing that and getting our best results.”
Volleyball is a sport that celebrates every point, but Lone Peak coach Reed Carlson said he tries to get his team to keep their cool throughout what could be as many as 20 sets of volleyball once the teams reach the UCCU Center.
“I tell them they should expect the outcome of a point,” he said. “I hope we keep our composure that way. I know not all points are created equal, but we also want to make sure we keep our heads on straight the whole time.”
Between matches during a long day of volleyball, Roden said she likes to keep things light to let her players unwind.
“We make sure they sit down, elevate their legs and take care of their bodies,” she said. “We like to get them some fresh air and let them go outside. We make sure they are eating well and focusing on our side. We don’t want them watching other games. We just want them focusing on themselves and their connection with each other.”
While Pleasant Grove and Lone Peak are seeded third and fourth, respectively, in this year’s tournament, no one is earning a state championship without going through the Vikings or the Knights.
The two teams have played each other for the past three large-school state titles – Lone Peak won all three – and Pleasant Grove has played in seven straight large-school finals.
“One of our goals after getting beat by PG earlier in the year was to make sure we didn’t lose again to get a share of the region championship,” Carlson said. “Once we did that, the measuring stick is going to state and we feel pretty confident in ourselves. We’re ready to play and it’s going to be fun to see what the girls do.”
Lone Peak and Pleasant Grove also share the desire to play a difficult preseason schedule that this year included the prestigious Durango Tournament in Las Vegas. While losses to out-of-state competition likely cost the Knights and Vikings a shot at the top seed in the state tournament, neither coach is going to change their scheduling philosophies.
“With the RPI, it hurt us going to the big tournament in Las Vegas,” Jones said. “But we wouldn’t trade that tournament for anything because it’s such a high level of volleyball. That was a great tournament for us to just focus on getting better for region play and preparing us for the state tournament. We’ll definitely keep going. At the end of the day, whoever wins out in the state tournament is the team that comes to play and comes to win.”
Lone Peak has one of the most dynamic hitters in the state in 6-foot-2 junior Lauren Jardine, who is averaging 5.3 kills per set, and she has plenty of help from seniors Rachel West and MaKenzie Templeton. Senior setter Gabby Haws (11.4 assists per set) directs a potent offense and junior Grace Evens anchors the passing game from her libero spot.
Pleasant Grove won in five sets in the first meeting between the two teams, while the Knights took the second Region 4 match in five sets and also won two sets against PG in the Wasatch Festival.
The Vikings are powered by senior outside Bryton Bishop, junior outside Mia Peterson, junior middle Heather Hamson and setter Abbie Miller.
The No. 1 seed in the 6A tournament is Copper Hills, dropped a four-set match to Pleasant Grove early in the season. The Grizzlies are led by the Sopoaga sisters, Asiah and Alyiah, who are state tournament veterans. The No. 2 seed, Fremont, lost to Copper Hills and a team from Idaho in a preseason tournament.
The top six seeds in Class 6A all receive first round byes and begin play at UVU on Thursday. The first round begins on Tuesday for Westlake, American Fork and Skyridge.
Last year’s Class 5A winner, Skyridge, moved up to 6A, so there will be an new champion in 2019.
It’s a very balanced field with a half-dozen teams in position to make a run for the title.
That includes Mountain View, which finished second to Timpview in Region 7 but earned the No. 2 seed behind Farmington.
“I think there are a lot of competitive teams in the field,” Roden said. “The disadvantage is pretty much our whole region is on our side of the bracket. We’ll face some of our neighbors. It’ll be fun but emotional.”
The Bruins leader is senior outside Mia Wesley, who is averaging four kills per set. Freshman middle Mia Lee is a dangerous hitter as well.
“Our region has been awesome,” Roden said. “Every game has been a fight for the entire region. I think our region is prepared to do well.”
Timpview, coached by Charmay Lee, won Region 7 by two games and earned the No. 3 seed in the tournament. The T-Birds are an emotional team led by a pair of freshmen in Taliah Lee and Silina Damuni that could ride that emotion a long way in the tournament.
Region 8 champion Salem Hills is the No. 4 seed and is a young team with junior Ryen Bradshaw and sophomore Taylor Snow primed for some star-making performances at state.
The top three seeds received first round byes and will begin play on Thursday. Payson, Salem Hills, Orem, Wasatch, Timpanogos, Maple Mountain, Provo, Spanish Fork, Springville and Lehi all begin first-round play on Tuesday.