When Tuesday night’s Region 3 matchup between Bingham and Copper Hills concluded, Copper Hills head coach Silver Fonua said that he wouldn’t be surprised if he had grown a few gray hairs because of the match.
In the end, the gray hairs were worth it for Fonua and his side as they narrowly secured a victory over the Miners in a five-set thriller to improve to 5-0 in region play. The two dropped sets were just the second and third lost games of the Grizzlies’ Region 3 campaign.
Though things didn’t always go smoothly for them in the match, Fonua said that his team can take much away from the hard-earned victory.
“That was a fun game,” Fonua said. “When you can battle a team that is that big and can swing the way they swing, it allowed us to be challenged defensively so we can get better. It was just fun to play such a challenging team that can prepare us for state.”
Both teams came into the match on different ends of the momentum spectrum. Copper Hills had just notched a straight-set victory over Riverton, while Bingham’s game came on the heels of a five-set defeat to West Jordan.
The prior circumstances didn’t seem to phase the Miners at all, as they rallied to take an early lead with a 25-21 victory in the opening set. The Grizzlies responded with a comfortable, double-digit win in set No. 2 to look like they had regained control of the match.
But Bingham kept swinging and jumped out to an early 9-3 advantage in the third set, eventually securing the 25-22 victory and putting Copper Hills on the verge of its first region loss of the season.
The Grizzlies and their formidable defense regrouped in the fourth to force a fifth set. The two teams went back and forth in what was a roller coaster final set, but after the game was knotted at 15, Copper Hills secured two straight points to close out the game 17-15 and keep its region record unblemished.
Fonua said his team’s ability to hold serve down the stretch against a hard-swinging Bingham team was what made the difference in the end.
“When it came down the stretch, we had to hold serve,” Fonua said. “Everything they threw to the outside wound up in a kill, so we just had to put together a string of few points. That took experience and discipline and that’s what it came down to: who was more disciplined at the end of the game.”
Momentum fluctuated frequently throughout the match — ultimately ending on the side of the Grizzlies — and Fonua said that his team’s ability to slow the game down is what allowed them to take back momentum whenever it was lost.
“All we focused on was the next play what our jobs were on that play,” Fonua said. “We stopped looking at the scoreboard and we just looked at what our responsibilities were. I think that’s what makes us a good team. We focus on the little things and the byproduct of that is we score points.”
Oftentimes the game’s momentum swinging plays were made by Bingham sophomore Levaniali’i Key, who gave the Grizzlies fits throughout the evening with an all-around game that Fonua described as an “art form.”
“I love playing against her,” Fonua said. “You have to appreciate how good she is as a player. She’s so good at everything. She can pass, she can play defense and she can swing, so there are very few times I can get upset about playing against someone like her because she’s just so good.”
Fonua went on to say that he expects the Miners’ young sophomore to be on one of the all-state teams come season’s end.
Though she put on quite the show, Key’s stellar play didn’t completely overshadow the individual excellence the Grizzlies displayed throughout the match.
Hitters Lolo Fonua and Gabrielle Hutchings combined for 35 kills on the evening for Copper Hills. The hitters were fed by players like Genalyn Hardle (30 assists and 17 digs) and the ever-steady libero Randilyn Reeves (18 digs and six assists).
With the first round of region play in the books, Fonua said his squad is going to have to be even better over the second round of matches if they want to improve to the level they need to be at heading into the state tournament — where the Grizzlies will look to make a third-straight appearance in the 6A championship game.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Fonua said of his team’s remaining schedule. “Teams will figure us out and it’s going to take a lot of work, not just physically, but mentally as well.”