OREM — The two teams that stepped on the court in the 4A volleyball championship match know each other so well that each side almost wanted to beat the other team even more than they wanted to win the state title. In the end, Highland prevailed for the third and most important time this year in the 25-11, 25-21, 29-27 victory over Region 6 foe Cottonwood.
Their prize was the school's first state title since 1997.
"I know a lot of the girls on the other team, and every time I looked at them I wanted to kill the ball," said Highland outside hitter and tournament MVP Priscilla Lolohea. "Even though we're friends, we'd do anything to beat each other, and it's even more important at the state tournament."
Lolohea finished the tournament with an impressive 14 kills in the final match of her high school volleyball career, but she's led the team all tournament and all season with her leadership abilities and her talents on the court.
"Priscilla is our standout player. She's really stepped up and done some great things for us," said Highland coach Clint Barnes, who has instilled the motto "Play the Moment" on his players all year long.
And that motto helped the Rams hold on in a tight third game to put them over the top and maintain the sweep they'd been looking for.
"I think Cottonwood made a great comeback down seven in game three, and they focused and made a run at it. But these kids believe in themselves and they believe in each other," Barnes said of the team he has treated to matches against the toughest of competition all year long in preparation not only for the 4A tournament, but also for the title match.
"We've played the best teams, and it's made us better.
It's taught us all the little things we needed to work on and shown us what we needed to do. It showed us the speed this game is really played at," said Barnes. "We learned that if we were just losing to the best teams we could probably be one of the best teams."
And then his team went out and proved it by winning its region and then coming in and grabbing the state trophy.
Setter Susan Harris has been a team leader all year not only with her great assists but also with her defense, and libero Loisi Valea had a great tournament from the backcourt. Valerie Iloa put down 11 kills in the final match in addition to her six blocks, but the entire tournament has been a team effort for the Rams, who sport a diverse squad.
"I think the diversity makes it fun," said Lolohea, and her coach agreed.
The win also made a great birthday present for little Michaeli Barnes, who turned six years old on the day her dad's team won the title. The team even sang happy birthday to their young fan after the match.
Even though Highland beat the Colts for the third time this season, Cottonwood was happy with its year and is now looking forward to several more good years with its young squad.
"We have a lot of people coming back, and they have a lot of people coming back," said Colts coach Robert Berrett of the two teams in the title game. "We're going to be seeing a lot of each other in the coming years."
His team didn't put up much of an offensive effort in the finals against the Rams, but the defense was intense with Kariann Steffensen and Kaili Aiono putting down 12 blocks each and Rachael Altland adding seven to the effort. Setter Kylie Hudson has led the team all year and will be back next year.
In other 4A tournament games Saturday:
LEHI DEF. EAST 26-28, 25-23, 25-20, 23-25, 15-7: The Pioneers once again relied on the strong arm of Christina Measom to advance past the Leopards and into yet another match against region rival Springville. Measom recorded 24 kills, giving her more than 20 in each tournament match.
SPRINGVILLE DEF. GRANGER 25-16, 25-14, 21-25, 25-20: The Red Devils got solid play from Cori Nielson to advance past the Lancers and into the match for sixth and eighth places.
COTTONWOOD DEF. BOX ELDER 26-24, 26-28, 25-23, 17-25, 15-11: The Colts made it past the Bees in a marathon match behind the strong setting of Kylie Hudson, who also recorded 12 blocks, and a balanced hitting attack. The victory marked the first time the Colts have advanced to the tournament finals since 1979. It ended an improbable run by the Bees, who reached the semifinals this year after finishing last in the region a year ago.
MOUNTAIN CREST DEF. PROVO 25-17, 25-17, 25-21: The Mustangs beat the Bulldogs in three easy games, knocking Provo out of the tournament and advancing to the fifth-place match.
HIGHLAND DEF. OREM 25-20, 20-25, 25-22, 25-20:Priscilla Lolohea was nearly unstoppable for the Rams with 16 kills. Susan Harris once again set a great match as the Rams earned a rematch with Cottonwood in the finals. Carly Taylor led the Tigers as she has all season.
SKY VIEW DEF. MURRAY 22-25, 25-21, 25-22, 22-25, 15-6: The Spartans put up a good fight in the thrilling five-game match, but the Bobcats took it to them in the final game and earned the right to play for fifth place.
LEHI DEF. SPRINGVILLE 25-16, 23-25, 25-15, 25-19: The Pioneers wrapped up their season with a sixth-place finish and a win in the rubber match over the Red Devils. Marci Gray led the team in digs and Christina Measom once again led the team in kills with 22. Measom finished with a total of 93 kills for the tournament. Springville finished the tournament in eighth place, its highest finish in more than 10 years.
MOUNTAIN CREST DEF. SKY VIEW 20-25, 27-25, 25-19, 19-25, 15-13: The Bobcats swept the Mustangs in the regular season but couldn't finish them off in the playoffs. Mountain Crest came through in a five-game match to finish the tournament in fifth place. Sky View finished seventh.
BOX ELDER DEF. OREM 25-13, 27-25, 25-13: The Bees featured a balanced attack with 10 kills from Carlie Romer, eight kills from Mandy Munns and seven kills by Laura Schramm to take out the Tigers and finish the tournament in third place. The Bees overcame large odds and a third-place finish in Region 5 to produce an incredible run in the state tournament.
4A all-tournament team
MVP: Priscilla Lolohea, OH, Highland
Valerie Iloa, MB/OH, Highland
Susan Harris, S, Highland
Kylie Hudson, S, Cottonwood
Kaili Aiono, MB, Cottonwood
Christina Measom, MB, Lehi
Mandy Munns, MB, Box Elder