When the Brighton volleyball team looks for motivation to win, it doesn't daydream about holding the 5A championship trophy. Instead, it remembers how it felt to claim the second-place trophy.
"They're still pretty bitter about last year," said Bengal coach Jeremiah Larsen. "There's a lot of sting."
The pain of losing last year's 5A championship match motivates the team to work even harder than it did last season, Larsen said. In fact, when the team lost a game to Pleasant Grove in the Tournament of Champions earlier this month, Larsen asked the players if they remembered how they felt last November.
"I reminded them what happened around Nov. 5 of last year," he said. "I asked them how it felt to take second."
The Bengal squad responded by easily winning game five and earning the tournament's top honors. Team leader and outside hitter Krista Kelley earned 20 kills in that win and said losing last year provides ample motivation this year.
"Every point is the state championship point," said one of the hottest recruits in the state. "It's helps a lot to remember."
Most coaches expected the Bengals to be the team to beat this season, earning the No. 1 nod in 5A and in Region 2. The realignment of the state's regions and classifications put Brighton in a much tougher region, with Skyline, Alta and Taylorsville all having a realistic chance at a state title this year.
Brighton is led by Kelley, a powerful outside hitter with a dedicated work ethic. When she's on, the team follows her completely. Helping her shoulder leadership responsibilities are sophomore setter Missy White and senior middle blocker Sage Aune.
White said Kelley keeps her calm in the middle of those close, tense matches.
"I've played with Krista for two years, and I know where to put the ball for her," said White, who started for last year's second-place team. "She calms me down most of the time. I was a little frustrated (against Pleasant Grove), and she helped me focus. Sage helps me a lot, too."
Aune started the year with just one good eye due to a parasite infection from a contact lens. But when next week's region schedule starts, she should be completely healed.
Skyline, formerly of Region 3, was voted the second-best team in the region in pre-season polls. The Eagles return a lot of talent and experience and are led by one of the state's most veteran setters in Jaimie Judkins.
They have junior Teresa Uipi at middle or outside and junior middle Katie Astell, who will provide the Eagles a lot of defense at the net.
"Our chemistry is better, and we have a lot more depth," said Skyline coach Jami Hutchins. All of which is good as the region has improved tremendously.
Alta earned the No. 3 spot in the pre-season polls, due in large part to the play of future Ute Sydney Anderson. She's one of the state's best setters and has played outside hitter for her high school team until this season.
The team is still trying to find the line-up that will best suit her tremendous power and talent, but the squad has enough height and power to upset most any other 5A team.
Coming in at No. 4 in the voting is Taylorsville. The only west-side school in the region, the Warriors have a lot to prove as the season begins.
They're led by left-handed hitter Jorgan Staker and middle blocker Talisa Vakalani. The team has several talented outside hitters battling for starting positions in the early days of the season.
"We block well and hit well," said coach Rich Kaelin. "We're much better defensively and passing that we were last year."
The Warriors finished sixth in the state and are looking to improve that finish, even as they try to incorporate some younger talent into their line-up.
Cyd Allen, a sophomore who was an all-state catcher last year, will start at middle blocker for the team, while Tahnie Taylor continues her setting duties in this her senior season.
"We're a much better team than we were last year," Kaelin said. "I think we can battle with anyone. We're going to have to be good to even make it to state."
Jordan earned the No. 5 ranking in the region and is one of those teams that will be greatly helped by the newly created libero position, which allows a player to play back row almost constantly for any player.
"I just changed Cassidee LePrey's position from outside hitter to libero," said coach Brandi Lloyd. "I think she'll have a huge impact. She's very quick on the court."
Also an all-state softball player, LePrey's defense will be critical to the young Beetdigger squad. They're led by sophomore outside hitter Dottie Vea offensively and will rely on Alexis Housholder for setting.
"She's never played varsity," Lloyd said of the senior who will run her offense. Also a sophomore, Carolyn Porter will play middle blocker.
"We're excited she's so young and can start for us," said Lloyd who lost almost her entire squad to graduation and transfers. "It's a tough region, but the team seems to work really well together."
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