OREM — Last year Lauren Richards was the 5A MVP, so it might be natural to assume she'd feel some pressure going into her senior year.
Not at all. She has a keep-calm strategy. She sings songs she learned as a child in church to her teammates. Hey, they say it works.
"I'm just out to have fun," the junior national player said. "I love to play, and I'm excited for my senior year."
How good is the defending state champion Timpanogos team this season?
"Awesome," she said.
The Timberwolves only graduated one starting player, but more importantly they have Richards and her now-sophomore sister, Kristen, back in the lineup this year. They plan to make another run for the state title — the only one, of any kind, in school history.
Preseason rankings are often premature and inaccurate because they're based mostly on how teams fared last season. Nowhere is that more true than high school sports as many things can change the makeup of a team besides graduation.
So it's no wonder that when the Deseret News polled the 5A coaches, they were pretty evenly split on which teams would be number three, four and five.
As Timpanogos coach Angie Roberts put it, "Every team has got one or two good players. It depends on how they capitalize on them. There's a lot of competition." And while her team is confident they can repeat last year's state championship, they know they have their work cut out for them.
"We have to work hard," said Candice Carter. "We can't assume anything."
The team likely won't face Skyline, the squad picked number two by coaches, until the state tournament. The Eagles are always a volleyball powerhouse, and this season should be no different.
Coach Joan Burdett has several heavily recruited players, including Christy Nilson, an outside hitter.
Skyline sits atop a tough region with Cottonwood, Northridge and Layton hoping to beat the Eagles early. Timpanogos could be challenged by Orem or Mountain View. Region 2 is too close to call, but Bingham has a lot of potential.
Roberts picked her team over Skyline but added, "It's a total tossup."
Timpanogos' Kristen Richards was the only non-senior to make the Deseret News first team all-state in 1999 — and she was just a freshman. She had 37 kills and four blocks in the state tournament alone.
Mountain View and Northridge aren't ranked in this first poll of the season but could easily change that by next week. Bingham coach Esther Halliday lost only one player last year to graduation and has several players worth watching in Kylie Gilmore, Erin Page and Cami Olsen.
The Miners host a seven-team preseason tournament that started this afternoon and will end Wednesday morning.
Bingham will see several of 5A's top teams play in it, although Roberts has opted to take her squad to a Las Vegas tournament instead. Skyline will play, as will Viewmont, Mountain View and Orem, among others.