OREM — The four seniors chose their theme song carefully just in case anyone outside the locker room wondered if this year's Monticello team could measure up to what last year's squad accomplished.
But the song "Don't Stop Believin’ ” came to define what the 2012 Buckaroos did in the 1A state volleyball championship match when they held off a ferocious comeback by St. Joseph Catholic High School.
"It wasn't easy, that's for sure," said senior libero Stevee Wilcox after Monticello won its second straight 1A title by winning a five-set thriller 25-20, 25-19, 23-25, 17-25, 15-11. "I was a little nervous, but I knew my team was behind me."
All season long, this year's team felt the pressure of trying to defend the school's first volleyball title. Head coach Tony Esplin told his players from the opening set that this year's team had to earn its own accomplishments.
"I told them we can't live up to last year," said Esplin. "All you can do is be you."
After losing five seniors to graduation, this year's seniors were helped by two sophomores and a freshman.
"We're a lot smaller," said Esplin. Which is why he worried — just a little — as he watched third-ranked St. Joseph upset top-ranked Rich in the semifinals Saturday morning (25-16, 20-25, 25-19, 15-25, 15-12).
"I didn't honestly think we had a chance against them," said Esplin, whose team had to defeat Piute 25-19, 25-14, 25-21 to earn a spot in Saturday night's final. "They had such a big block. We figured we just had to be a little quicker and try to nullify the block that way. I think that was the difference."
Jessica Ewart's play in the middle got the Buckaroos off to a solid start. She earned 17 kills, while senior outside hitter Shaylyn Black added 16 kills. Senior setter Devin Dalton moved the ball around enough that the Buckaroo offense never really stalled. She contributed in every way, including eight kills, and her efficiency in running the offense earned her 1A All-Tournament MVP honors.
The Buckaroos jumped out to a two-set lead, but then the Jayhawks battled back, forcing a showdown in five sets.
"I was worried," said Esplin with a slight smile. "But we fought all the way through. This is a great team to bounce back again."
He acknowledged that this year's squad didn't have the win-loss record that last year's team did, but they had chemistry and tenacity that made a difference in a tough tournament. He said the team's song choice summed up its mentality as the players fought to make their own place in the history books.
"The harder you work, the luckier you get," Esplin said.
Black said realizing they didn't have to live up to last year's team was difficult.
"It was hard," she said. "But we knew we were a different team."
Added Dalton, "We knew we had different strengths."
Ewart said the players turned to each other when the pressure started to get to them.
"We became a team," said the senior.
And that team earned a state title against a team that earned a lot of benchmark moments in this year's tournament at UVU's UCCU Center.
"We've never beat Rich (semifinal win)," said head coach Ray Franklin. "We've never beat Panguitch (quarterfinal win). We've done a lot of nevers today. It's always tough to lose, but I couldn't be more proud of these girls."
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