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High school volleyball: 4A and 5A teams prepare for tournament with much more parity than in the past

Bountiful celebrates winning the 4A state championship final volleyball match against Timpview at UVU in Orem on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015.
Bountiful celebrates winning the 4A state championship final volleyball match against Timpview at UVU in Orem on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

LEHI — Bountiful may not be the undefeated Goliath they were last year, but they’re still this year’s team to beat as the 4A state volleyball tournament gets underway Thursday at UVU’s UCCU Center.

The Braves are 11-0 in region play — one of two teams with undefeated region titles. The team is led by senior Seyvion Waggoner, who has 301 kills this season. Senior Sydney Asay, junior Brook Pe’A, and senior Kelsie White are all critical contributors who were part of last year’s 4A championship team.

The top-ranked Braves will face Judge in the opening round of the tournament, which begins at 3 p.m. Thursday in Orem.

“I think Bountiful has to be the favorite,” said Skyridge head coach Deanna Meyer. “They just have that terminating outside (Waggoner). I do think it’s unfortunate the way the tournament has been seeded.”

Meyer is talking about how loaded the top half of the 4A bracket is with ranked teams. Third-ranked Skyridge will start with Wasatch, but if they win, they could face the defending champions in that second-round game. Fourth-ranked Skyline and perennial powers Timpview and Salem Hills are also in the top half of the bracket, and in fact, the T-birds and Skyhawks play each other in what promises to be one of the best first-round games of the tournament.

“I think our region has a lot to offer,” Meyer said, acknowledging that she hasn’t seen some of the northern 4A teams as she was a long-time coach at Lone Peak, currently 5A’s top-ranked team. “(Second-ranked) Corner Canyon, Timpview, Mountain View, they’re all really good. And we’re doing better than expected.”

Expectations are always modest for a first-year school.

After all, it’s hard to know how a team with no history will come together under the constantly changing pressures of a season.

So while it looks like a second-place finish in one of the state’s most competitive region might surprise some, Meyer is not one of them.

“I’ve got half of the kids from Lehi, and they’re the defending 5A champions,” she said of the school that gave the city of Lehi its second high school. “But we are young, so sometimes we falter and forget our strength. If we can stay mentally in it, we’re a pretty good team.” She said the team’s strength is athleticism and the fact that they don’t rely on a single superstar.

“We have a lot of people who can get a hold of the ball, not just one key player,” she said.

So how does a coach prepare with a roster full of players who have very little to zero experience with the state tournament environment?

“Right now, I think our biggest worry is what we’re doing,” she said. “The ebbs and flows of a game. We have to fix the dips, not have them. I can’t necessarily worry about what everyone else is doing. I have to worry about our side of the net.”

Skyline, the Region 6 champion, will open the tournament with Woods Cross, Region 5’s fourth seed. The Eagles are led by junior middle Cameron Mooney and junior outside Sophia Afonso.

Region 8 champion Maple Mountain, the other 4A team to go undefeated in region play, will open the tournament with fifth-ranked Mountain View, a team that is much better than its No. 4 seed. The Golden Eagles are led by senior outside hitter Kristen Allred, Sarah Mafi and Makell Hunt.

5A VOLLEYBALL

Lone Peak may be a perennial contender, but this year is especially impressive given that the team has a new head coach. Reed Carlson took over after Meyer left to coach and teach at Skyridge, and he led the Knights to an undefeated region title.

The Knights made great progress during the season after losing to Pleasant Grove’s junior varsity team in a pre-season tournament. They went on to lose four of six matches in the Durango Fall Classic, after which they came back to Utah and dominated Region 4, including two victories against second-ranked Pleasant Grove.

The Knights open the tournament with Northridge, and if they manage to win that match, they’ll face a tough second-round opponent in either Davis or fifth-ranked Brighton. Lone Peak is led by junior outside/opposite Madi Robinson and junior middle/opposite Makayla Pollard. The offense is run by setters Kacie Huntsman, a senior, and Jaque Langhaim, a junior.

Second-ranked Pleasant Grove will take on Fremont in the first-round of the 5A tournament, which beings on Friday at 9 a.m. with the championship scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday. The Vikings are led by junior outside hitter Kazna Tarawhiti, senior middle Malli Valgardson, and senior right side Sara Hamson.

Third-ranked Sky View opens with American Fork, while fourth-ranked Bingham, Region 3’s top seed, will take on Syracuse in the first round of the tournament. Sky View is led by senior outside Abby Harper, while Bingham is led by junior setter/opposite Seleisa Elisaia, sophomore outside Journey Tupea, and sophomore outside Sisi Kaili.

Brighton, Region 3’s No. 2 seed, is led by Utah commit Dani Barton, and they will play Davis at 9 a.m. Friday. Defending champion Lehi has to win a play-in game against Riverton for the opportunity to play in the first round of the tournament. If the Pioneers win, the will face Weber, Region 1's top seed. Weber has a very diverse offense with five players earning more than 100 kills this season.

Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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