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Going in for the kill

How will Pleasant Grove, Lone Peak fare among 5A foes?

While Utah County's coaching carousel seems to have taken a year off, seven of the teams have been flung into higher divisions, creating yet another year of change and uncertainty.

But as some things change, some things stay the same. Pleasant Grove and Lone Peak once again are the two teams to beat.

But this season, the Vikings just might be able to get over the hump by taking out the Knights and grabbing a shot at their own title. It might not be all Utah County this year, however. Though in the recent past, the valley teams have dominated their counterparts up north, this season a move into 5A raises the level of competition and brings the Brighton Bengals into the state mix.

But Pleasant Grove is confident and determined to take on all comers. "We're going to take state this year," said Allyce Wilson, Pleasant Grove setter. And teammate Kortney Robinson concurred wholeheartedly. The girls want to take a double gold and walk away with titles in both tennis and volleyball this season. And they have a good chance to do just that.

Much of the team is intact from last season, and new BYU signee Hailey Jeppsen is the go-to gal. This team can dig, block, serve, set and hit without rival in the entire valley. They've been designated the No. 1 team in the state and with very good reason. Even though they've dismantled all competition other than Brighton, Pleasant Grove coach Mike Daniel said, "We have a ton of potential, but we're not playing to capacity yet."

Those words can throw plenty of scare into the competition.

That competition includes another highly-touted team and the defending state 4A champs, Lone Peak. Though the squad lost a couple of seniors that will be tough to replace, it's still relying on setter and team leader Ashley Hamilton, who garnered 4A MVP honors last year. The team is extremely versatile with many players playing a variety of positions, and coach Deanna Meyer always fields a tough defensive squad.

Though top hitter Jackie Fotu is out until at least mid-October, the team is playing now like she's not coming back at all. "We don't want to rely on her," said Meyer, who prefers to look at her return like an addition to an already solid team.

While 5A action seems to be in the bag for the usual suspects, 4A is in a bit of upheaval this season.

Perennial power Provo lost three stars off last year's fourth place finishers at state but has once again reloaded and is ready to take charge of Region 7. But this year they'll have some competition from up-and-comer Springville, solid Orem and a surprising Lehi squad. It looks to be a four-way race to the championship and could go down to the wire.

Here's a look at all the teams in Region 4 and Region 7.

Region 4

PLEASANT GROVE

Head coach: Mike Daniel

Key players: Hailey Jeppsen, outside hitter; Tela Burnett, middle blocker; Allyce Wilson, setter; Kortney Robinson, outside hitter; Morgan Lloyd, libero; Janae Mortenson; setter; Whitney Mendivil, outside hitter; Kilee May, outside hitter.

Outlook: This team is almost intact after finishing second at state last year. By far the Vikings are the consensus top pick for Region 4 and the county's best hope for a volleyball championship. Jeppsen has signed with BYU and leads an all-star hitting squad. This team can also pass and set with the best of them. The Vikings will be tough to sink.

Predicted finish: first

LONE PEAK

Head coach: Deanna Meyer

Key players: Ashley Hamilton, setter; Tami Peterson, outside hitter; Christina Evans, outside hitter; Leslie Fonbuena, rightside/middle blocker; Christie Carpenter, outside hitter; Lacey Cramer, outside hitter; Jackie Fotu, outside hitter.

Outlook: The two-time defending state champs have a lot of shoes to fill, but much of the team is still returning for another season. Hamilton returns as last year's 4A MVP and will once again be the team leader as setter. She'll be missing one of her top hitters in Fotu, who'll be out with a shoulder injury until at least mid-October. This team still has plenty of heart and talent.

Predicted finish: second

AMERICAN FORK

Head coach: Chad Murray

Key players: Jenna Toone, setter/outside hitter; Shantelle Durrant, outside hitter; Alicia King, outside hitter; Brooke Miller, setter/defensive specialist.

Outlook: This team isn't to be trifled with and in any other region might be considered a favorite. The trio of Durrant, Toone and King is back and raring to go, creating a formidable front line. The offense is impressive, but they'll have to work on the passing. No problem jumping into the playoffs, and they should make some noise.

Predicted finish: third

MOUNTAIN VIEW

Head coach: Jon Fairbanks

Key players: Alyssa Merrell, outside hitter; Angie Glasford, outside hitter; Marianne White, setter; Rachel Glasford, setter; Noelle Pitcher, middle blocker; Nicole Steele, defensive specialist.

Outlook: The team returns five seniors and a lot more experience than they took the court with last season. Fairbanks likes the way the team is playing to start the year and will count heavily on Merrell and Glasford. They should sneak into the playoffs without a problem if they keep their heads.

Predicted finish: fourth

SPANISH FORK

Head coach: Amber Newell

Key players: Diane Stewart, outside hitter; Kelsy Hales, middle blocker; Jenna Johnson, setter; Nickelle Corless, outside hitter; Marianne Weight, middle blocker; Andrea Warren, libero; Sherry Still, defensive specialist/libero.

Outlook: Newell hopes the athletic Stewart will lead this strong offensive club to a shot at the playoffs, but it won't be easy in one of the toughest regions in the state. She's impressed with sophomore setter Johnson, who "gets to everything and always puts up a playable ball." The team has improved defensively and will put up a fight for the final playoff spot.

Predicted finish: fifth

TIMPANOGOS

Head coach: Lala Mulitala

Key players: Jessica Jensen, outside hitter; Abby Jo Johnson, defensive specialist; Breanne Molen, defensive specialist; Jhordan Teo, setter/rightside; Caitlyn Andrus, middle blocker; Cali Nelson, middle blocker; Angie Larsen, setter.

Outlook: This team is in its third year of rebuilding, and new coach Mulitala has plenty of confidence in her inexperienced squad. "They didn't know they could play at this level," she said of the girls, who have energy and welcome the challenge of pulling themselves into a playoff spot. The T-Wolves are the only team in the valley with a new coach this season.

Predicted finish: sixth

Region 7

PROVO

Head coach: Wendy Bills

Key players: Lori Wilson, middle blocker; Alex Probert, middle blocker; Cara Griffin, rightside hitter; Nalani Lobendahn, outside hitter; Chunzy Unufe, rightside hitter; Naomi Paige Flinders , setter.

Outlook: This team always seems to reload and never has to rebuild. After losing a trio of tough seniors last year, this season could have been difficult, but long-time coach Bills always has replacements waiting in the wings. Lobendahn has "exploded this year," she claimed. And freshman starter Griffin is "walking in Lobendahn's footsteps." A sophomore is setting with little experience and Probert is out a month with an injury. Wilson is tough anywhere and will now be in the middle.

Predicted finish: first

SPRINGVILLE

Head coach: Melia Roberts

Key players: Danielle Taylor, outside hitter; Cory Nielson, rightside hitter; Hilary Wright, defensive specialist; Samantha Sumsion, middle blocker; Erica Mackay, setter; Lindsay Barker, middle blocker/outside hitter.

Outlook: The Red Devils have created quite a stir early in the 2005 season. All of Region 7 sees them as a top threat and one of the teams to beat. If nothing else this squad should win the "most improved" award. They have plenty of height and put up a big block on every position. Roberts is confident in the defense and serving. "We're going to run a lot more options, and I'm a little excited about the big front line," she said.

Predicted finish: second

OREM

Head coach: Wayne Wood

Key players: Dani Robinson, middle blocker; Carly Taylor, outside hitter; Brooke Shurtleff, outside hitter; Alecia Nilsson, setter; Tiarah Shumway, middle blocker.

Outlook: The Tigers clawed their way to the playoffs last season and are favored by region coaches to do the same this year. "We have good hitting. I'm excited with the offense and the block. If the passing comes around, I'm really excited about the season," said Wood. He sees this year as a good opportunity to take down defending champion Provo and steal the crown.

Predicted finish: third

LEHI

Head coach: Jamie Ingersoll

Key players: Christina Measom, outside hitter; Liz Walker, outside hitter/middle blocker; Megan Zimmerman, outside hitter; Marci Gray, outside hitter; Carina Eggleston, defensive specialist; Kyla Burke, setter.

Outlook: The Pioneers are the great unknown. After languishing as an average 3A team last year, Lehi makes the leap to 4A with plenty of confidence and a fabulous start. This team is loaded with athletes and fields a scrappy defense. The Pioneers could be the surprise team of the season and might pull off upsets. They're still young but extremely competitive, and any team with Measom has a chance to win it every night.

Predicted finish: fourth

PAYSON

Head coach: Jodie Beck

Key players: Miranda Bradshaw, middle blocker; Aubrey Orton, outside hitter; Jamie Holman, outside hitter; Tracie Manning, defensive specialist; Hailey Van Ausdal, defensive specialist; Brooke Hiatt, setter

Outlook: Anytime a team loses a player like Sandy Marvin, it's tough to replace her. The Lions have added height this year, but the inexperience is palpable. "Our whole attitude is team-oriented this year, and the younger girls are coming along in practice," said Beck. It'll be tough for this team to learn fast enough to make the playoffs.

Predicted finish: fifth

TIMPVIEW

Head coach: Steve Yamada

Outlook: This team went into a severe tailspin last year after heading to the final four in 2003. After losing most of its top players to graduation and Weber State's Chelsea Baird to a season-ending injury, it just didn't have any experience left. The tailspin looks to continue this year.

Predicted finish: sixth


E-mail: jolsen@desnews.com