With the Class 4A volleyball tournament getting under way today at Utah Valley State College, the Highland Rams come in as surprise region champions — and they like their chances in the state tournament.
Head coach Clint Barnes says the teams' confidence is great right now.
"With us beating Cottonwood twice this year, that really gives us a lot of confidence," he said. "As for the tournament, we feel 4A is totally up for grabs."
The Rams' coach feels his team will be playing loose since most people don't consider Highland a favorite to win it all.
"I like our position. We're kind of under the radar and we don't have the pressure of a Provo or Springville."
Barnes says that all 4A teams' chances improved when Lone Peak and Pleasant Grove moved into Class 5A. Those two schools played in last year's 4A championship game and both are now competing at 5A level.
Highland goes into the state tournament playing very well. Barnes says the team has learned to play together as a cohesive unit.
"We're doing some real good things now. This is what I thought we could be like."
They haven't lost a match since Sept. 27, when they lost in five games to West, 18-25, 15-25, 25-19, 25-20 and 15-7.
Which team has the inside track? Provo, Highland and Sky View are the region champions and favorites going into the tournament.
The Bobcats are undefeated in region play and currently rank number one in Class 4A Volleyball, while Provo has also been mentioned as the best team in the state. Highland's confidence could be tested early, with a possible second-round match against Springville looming.
Cottonwood (12-2) took second place in Region 6, a disappointing finish for a team that went undefeated in region play last year. The Colts were picked to win the region this year but couldn't beat Highland in two tries.
Head coach Bob Berrett says he's the one to blame for the losses.
"I might have put too much pressure on the team for the Highland games," Barrett said. "It's new region, and we really didn't know what to expect. It put pressure on us because we're the new kids on the block."
The Colts' ultimate goal of winning a state title is still within reach. That is the main focus for Berrett. He says that they'll take a different approach for the state tournament.
"The goal is to stay loose and relaxed," he says.
After losing to the Colts in five tough games last week, Murray head coach Wendy Pehrson picked Cottonwood and East as dark horses in the tournament.