The state of Utah was loaded with talented volleyball players across the state during the 2021 high school season. The best of the best stood out throughout the season and then again throughout the state tournament to lead their team to state titles.
Here’s a look at the 2021 Deseret News volleyball Players of the Year who made the biggest difference for their teams in each classification.
6A Player of the Year
KJ Burgess, Lone Peak, MB, Sr.
Lone Peak’s KJ Burgess was the most dominant presence at the net this season, and Lone Peak has a state championship to show for it.
The University of Utah signee with a big block and big arm racked up 105 blocks and 183 kills with a .375 hitting percentage as the Knights captured the 6A state title.
“There have been a few times in tight moments where KJ has told me without any hesitation, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got this.’ Each and every time has been followed by something spectacular, like a block stuff where her hands are so far on the other side of the net it almost seems unfair or a swing that leaves you shaking your head wondering how it was even possible,” said Lone Peak coach Reed Carlson. “Those moments are the ones where she leads by her actions and it absolutely instills confidence in everyone around her.”
In Lone Peak’s state championship victory over Pleasant Grove — which beat Lone Peak a couple weeks earlier in the region finale — Burgess recorded six blocks and seven kills.
“She doesn’t look for the spotlight but there are times it can’t avoid her. It has been really fun having the opportunity to see her grow as a fantastic volleyball player, teammate and person,” said Carlson.
Burgess also recorded 40 aces this season.
5A Player of the Year
Jordyn Harvey, Bountiful, OH, Jr.
Jordyn Harvey was one of the most clutch players in 5A this season.
She was second in 5A in kills with 375, finishing with a .267 hitting percentage, 229 digs, 63 aces and 20 blocks.
“Jordyn has had an amazing junior season, stepping up big-time for us when we needed her to score points. She has the ability to score from anywhere on the court and in many different ways which makes her very difficult for other teams to defend,” said Bountiful coach Sarah Chism.
Her importance was exemplified in late-season losses to Woods Cross and Mountain View and then wins over those same teams in the state semifinals and championship.
In the semifinal sweep over Woods Cross, Harvey racked up 17 kills with a .293 hitting percentage. In a loss a few weeks earlier she hit .116.
Later that same day in a sweep over Mountain View in the championship, Harvey hit .483 with 17 kills. A month earlier she hit .113 in a loss to the Bruins.
“She is extremely athletic and powerful at the net, but worked this season to develop her shots, back-row attack, serving and blocking, which really rounded out her overall game. This was highlighted in the championship match when she scored in a myriad of ways to help push us over the top to win the state title,” said Chism.
4A Player of the Year
Nia Damuni, Ridgeline, S, Jr.
Nia Damuni was a dominant player for Ridgeline throughout the season, and the junior was at her best late in the season when the pressure was its highest.
Of Damuni’s four games this season when she averaged double-digit assists per set, two of them happened in the state tournament — a quarterfinal win over Mountain Crest and the championship win over Desert Hills.
“Nia has a lot of qualities and characteristics that make her a great player and teammate. This season, Nia was a glue for our squad. Aside from her pure athleticism, she delivers the ball nicely, works hard to run a smart offense, and loves her teammates. She was a huge contributor to our team’s success,” said Ridgeline coach Jaicee Roden.
In three playoff wins, she tallied 117 assists, including 50 in the win over Mountain Crest.
One of the team’s leaders, Damuni finished the season with 799 assists, 221 digs, 40 aces and 69 kills.
3A Player of the Year
Kinslee Drake, Union, OH, Sr.
Union played a very difficult schedule this season against a lot of higher-classification schools. The Cougars lost about half of those games, but each game senior Kinslee Drake learned from the moment and improved the next game.
Late in the season when the games mattered most, Drake was at her best in leading Union to the 3A state championship.
“Kinslee is an amazing young lady that has such great ambition in life. She works hard in everything she does on and off the court. She has been a positive leader for our program and genuinely loves everyone around her. I’m excited to see what she does with her future endeavors and I know she will touch many lives in positive ways,” said Union coach Analaine Mailoto.
She finished the season with 343 kills, 23 blocks, 253 digs and a 1.88 passing percentage.
In the highly-anticipated state championship showdown with Morgan, Drake recorded 15 kills with a .278 hitting percentage and seven digs.
Union’s record against 3A state this season was 12-1.
2A Player of the Year
Marci Richins, North Summit, MB, Sr.
If there was a high school volleyball draft combine, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than North Summit senior Marci Richins winning the vertical jump contest. The senior middle blocker seems to jump out of the gym whenever she goes up for a kill or block, and that athleticism made her the most dominant player in 2A.
Richins finished the season with 600 kills, a .381 hitting percentage, 167 blocks and 271 digs. During North Summit’s four state tournament wins, she recorded 101 kills with a .506 hitting percentage.
“It has been my pleasure to coach Marci these past four years and watch her love for the game develop as well as her skills and talent. Marci is a phenomenal athlete, she came to practice each day with a drive and desire to work and improve. She is a leader on and off the court and would be just as excited for her teammates and their successes as her own,” said coach Samantha Stephens.
In North Summit’s championship sweep of Kanab, Richins tallied 24 kills and a .476 hitting percentage.
1A Player of the Year
Gabby Renaud, ICS, OH, Sr.
When ICS lost to Rich in last year’s state semifinals, Gabby Renaud vowed not to let that emotion be how her senior season ended.
“She worked real hard this past season and had one goal in mind, to win the state title,” said ICS coach Lorenzo Gasper.
Renaud delivered on that goal this season in leading ICS to the 1A state championship, which included a dramatic 3-2 win over Rich in the semifinals a year after a heartbreaking semifinal loss to Rich.
Renaud finished with 13 kills and 27 digs in leading the Lions to the semifinal win. Later that day in the championship win over Panguitch she recorded 13 kills and 26 digs.
“Gabby Renaud is an amazing team player and captain,” said Gasper.
Renaud finished the season with 314 kills, a .349 hitting percentage, 350 digs and 53 aces.