High school volleyball: 1A volleyball tournament deeper, more competitive than ever

Published: Monday, Oct. 28 2013 8:15 p.m. MDT

Monticello and St. Joseph High Catholic High School play in the 1A volleyball state championship finals at the UCCU Events Center at Utah Valley University in Orem on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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Every team wants to believe it has a shot at a state championship.

It’s the reason they get up early, stay late and work so hard for months at a time.

The reality is that only one team can hoist that trophy at the end of each season. But that doesn’t meant the battle for the top spot can’t be a thriller, and that’s exactly what this year’s 1A state volleyball tournament promises to be.

In fact, the field is deeper than it’s ever been, promising one of the most competitive tournaments in history.

Three of the top five ranked teams are undefeated in region play, while the other two teams come from the deepest region in the classification.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” said fourth-ranked Panguitch head coach Cherri Frandsen. “It’s going to be fun to watch. There’s not just one powerhouse coming in and walking over everyone. We’re excited.” St. Joseph’s returns all of last year’s second place squad, and because of that, started the season ranked No. 1. The Jayhawk are 25-3 heading into the tournament, with all of their losses to schools from larger classifications, but they’re not approaching the playoffs like a favorite.

“It’s just like every other year,” said head coach Ray Franklin. “You work all season trying to get yourself in a good position so you can make it to that championship game.”

Defending 1A state champion — for the last two years — is third-ranked Monticello. The Buckaroos repeated as champions, despite losing a good number of varsity starters, and that’s the situation this year’s squad is in, as well.

“This is a pretty talented group of kids,” said Monticello head coach Tony Esplin. “If we have a weakness, it’s that we’re young.”

The Buckaroos lost one of their starting setters to a concussion earlier in the season, which forced them to change their offense to a 5-1, where they rely on a single setter.

“She was just barely cleared (to play),” Esplin said. “So I’m not sure how much she’ll get to play.”

The team will rely on the leadership of middle Ashley Dwart and junior outside Shania DeNanda. One advantage to being young is that they may not have some of the preconceived notions about storied programs that veterans may have to overcome.

“They don’t know any different,” Esplin said. “We’ve been very competitive with every big school we played. We expect to be pretty solid, and we think we have as good a chance as anybody.”

The Buckaroos are 20-5 heading into the tournament, where they open Wednesday at 3:30 with Tabiona or Dugway. If they manage to win, they will face fifth-ranked Piute. The T-birds earned Region 20’s No. 2 seed.

St. Joseph returns all of last year’s second-place squad, so expectations are high.

“We’ve had a pretty good season,” Franklin said. “Every year you get there, and think you’re pretty good playing your game, and then everybody else comes in with their A-plus game. You’ve just got to play.”

The Jayhawks are led by senior outside hitters Britt Sederholm and Jessie Bischoff, as well as middle hitter Audra Thurston and libero Mady White.

“All of these girls have gotten more mature, and they’ve been working hard,” Franklin said. “They’ve still got that taste in their mouths from that loss to Monticello last year. They’re wanting to come back and redeem themselves.”

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