Heading into its matchup with Timpview Thursday evening, 6A’s defending champion Lone Peak had already lost more games (2) than it did in the entire 2020-21 campaign (1).
Searching for their first win since hoisting the championship trophy, the Knights dispatched 5A’s reigning state champion Thunderbirds in straight sets to get themselves back on the winning track.
Though the two losses came against formidable opponents (Skyline and Mountain View), the start left much to be desired for the Knights, but head coach Reed Carlson said he and his team have focused on using the losses to grow as a team.
“For us, there’s no shame in losing a volleyball match,” Carlson said. “We’ve lost volleyball matches in the past. It’s the final match that we don’t want to lose, so whatever we can learn and do along the path to that final match, that’s what is ultimately important to us.”
Despite that mentality, Carlson confessed that securing the first victory was a big deal, especially since it came against a team like Timpview.
“To be able to be in an environment with that much passion from an opposing side with seasoned players and pull away a victory in that kind of fashion is huge for us,” Carlson said. “That’s the start to the season we were looking for, but it happened tonight. If we can build on that, we’re going to be really happy.”
Although the victory came in straight sets, the Thunderbirds didn’t make it an easy victory for the Knights. In fact, Lone Peak had to defend two set points before it was able to secure a narrow 27-25 win in a neck-and-neck opening set.
Timpview kicked off the first two sets with 7-2 and 7-1 advantages, respectively, but the Knights were able to form runs to eventually regain a lead after each poor start thanks to service game that gave the Thunderbirds issues all night long, but particularly in the first two sets.
Carlson said that the improved service game was something he and his staff had been emphasizing after being out-served by Skyline and Mountain View in the team’s opening games.
“We realized after our first two games that the other teams served a lot better than we did,” Carlson said. “We went back to practice and said that’s one of the parts of our game that we want to make sure is a lot cleaner and more aggressive. Ever since we’ve started being a little more committed to that side of the game, our passing and serving have been much cleaner.”
The Knights avoided digging themselves into an early hole in the third set, but traded points with Thunderbirds before pulling away for a 25-21 victory, making the third set the final one of the evening.
Carlson said the performances from outside hitters Emeline Hudson and Jayda Tupea was undeniably the key to securing the convincing first win of the season.
Tupea finished the night with 12 kills and 10 digs, hitting nearly 58%, while Hudson finished with a team-high 13 kills to go along with six digs.
“Our outsides terminated the ball,” Carlson said when asked what separated the two teams. “Our middle is always going to be a threat to every team we play, but our outsides and our opposite (Camilla Pugh) stepped up in huge, huge fashion.
“That’s something that was missing in the first games, but they executed perfectly today. They can see who they are as hitters now.”
The Knights’ tough preseason slate will continue with a road matchup on Tuesday against Fremont, but Carlson said that if his team can make Thursday’s performance a foundational one, it should be in good shape going forward.
“If we can build off tonight and what we did here tonight — serve well, pass well and hit — we’ll be alright,” Carlson said. “We look forward to (these tough preseason games) and that’s why we schedule them. It’s not about worrying about wins, it’s about playing the best competition so we can measure where we are as a team.
“If we can keep learning from these games, build on our key points every day in practice, then I think we’re going to be in a solid position.”