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New coach takes over top ranking

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In Jami Hutchins' first year as an assistant volleyball coach, the team he helped shepherd won the state title. That was 1997 and the school was Highland, his alma mater.

Three years later, he went to work under long-time Skyline coach Joan Burdett, who'd talked about retiring so often that no one really thought she'd do it. The Eagles overcame long odds to take state last season, and when it was all over, Burdett really did retire.

So just a few years after he began coaching volleyball, Hutchins finds himself head coach of the defending state champs, who also just happen to be the team most 5A coaches picked to win it all.

It wasn't so long ago that Hutchins was just another recreational volleyball enthusiast.

"I played football, ran track," he said. "Basketball was always my game."

Hutchins was an assistant basketball coach at Highland when Logan Tom, a member of the U.S. Volleyball team, persuaded him to help out with volleyball.

"It became my passion because it was such a challenge," he said. After two years at Highland, he worked as an assistant at Northridge. Burdett talked him into coming to Skyline for the 2000 season, and while he had great respect for Burdett's abilities, he had reservations about those he would coach.

"I was born and bred to hate Skyline," he said. "It was hard to think of going to Skyline. But I did, and the kids were just amazing."

Hutchins said the transition has been smoother than he expected as he knew most of the players from last year, and the junior varsity and sophomore team coaches remain the same. He has only one returning starter from last year's championship team — outside hitter Rachel Handy — but got one of Cottonwood's stars when hitter Via Phillipe transferred to Skyline last year.

He's hopeful the Eagles will find themselves on top at the end of the season, but he's honest about how much more talented the classification was before the Utah High School Athletic Association reorganized the divisions this summer.

"There's not an awful lot of talent in 5A," he said. "Most of it's in 4A because of the changes."

He and the other coaches who responded to a Deseret News straw poll believe there will be some surprises this season. Brighton, a team that's usually a mediocre volleyball program, was voted to be in the top five this year. Coach Kathy Mendenhall said, "If we stay healthy and pull together, we could be contenders this year in our region and in the state."

Bingham, Hillcrest and Davis should also be competing for the top spots in the state.

5A volleyball rankings

1. Skyline

2. Layton

3. Cottonwood

4. Bingham

5. Brighton

E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com