OREM — Somewhere between a heartbreaking bus ride with a second-place trophy and optional workouts in February, the players on St. Joseph Catholic High School's volleyball team decided disappointment would not break them.
It would fuel their dreams.
“Last year’s loss, it broke my heart,” said senior outside hitter Britt Sederholm after the Jayhawks earned the school’s first 1A state volleyball championship with a 25-11, 25-9, 19-25, 25-12 victory over fifth-ranked Piute Thursday afternoon at the UCCU Center. “We started our season in February. We were ready to go. We had that bitter taste in our mouths and we wanted this victory so bad. We’ve just been working for months.”
Their hard work paid off with a dominant championship run.
“I did not expect us to play like they did,” said St. Joseph head volleyball coach Ray Franklin. “Coming into this tournament you had five great teams. We’re up in the stands watching this, thinking, ‘These guys are amazing.’ But these girls, they brought their A-plus game.”
Franklin understands why last year’s second-place finish to Monticello provided so much inspiration for this year’s effort.
“From the time we left the building, all the way up until this moment, we just kept saying, ‘We’re not going to let that happen to us again,'” Franklin said. “That was our focus. We didn’t come in here thinking we were the best team, or that we were going to beat everybody. We were just focused, and we were going to win.”
That focus showed as the Jayhawks moved through the tournament’s tough competition with what looked like relative ease. They made quick work of the very talented T-Birds in the first two games of the title match, thanks in large part to Sederholm’s hitting and Audra Thurston’s impressive blocking.
“We didn’t have an answer for their big hits — or their big blocks,” said Piute head coach Shauna Bagley. “We couldn’t get anything around them or through them. They’re a great team.”
Sederholm led the team’s offense with 23 kills, while Thurston was critical at the net with eight solo blocks. Senior Jessie Bischoff added nine kills, while junior Mady White anchored the team’s defense with 14 digs. She added five assists.
Setter Emily Jackson finished with 26 assists, six aces and eight digs.
The Jayhawks were so dominant, it was difficult for the T-Birds to get much going the entire match. The one exception was the third set where the Jayhawks seemed to struggle and the T-Birds found a rhythm that allowed them to take the set. Kierra Gleave, a senior, finished with four kills, while Shaylee Gleave, a junior, added three kills. Senior Whitney Westwood added three kills, and Paige Jessen, a junior middle blocker, finished with four kills.
“We had a really great season, a lot of wins,” Bagley said. “We had a great run for this championship game. They’re fun girls to coach and fun to be around.”
Piute defeated Rich to earn a spot in the 1A final, while St. Joseph swept Panguitch for its championship berth.
Losing that third set in the title tilt could have been trouble for the Jayhawks as it ended a goal the girls set before the tournament.
“We wanted to sweep state,” Sederholm said. “One game away. It was frustrating; that was our goal. But our biggest goal was taking state. And we just said, ‘This is it. This is the last game. We’re going to win this.’” Franklin said he stood in the huddle with his players before the fourth and final set and told them exactly what they needed to do to win the state title they wanted so badly.
“I said, ‘We need to come out, and we need to get five straight points,'” he said smiling. “We got (nine). That was the focus. This is what we need to do not to let them have an opportunity to even think about coming back.”
As Sederholm, who is undecided about where she will play college volleyball, kept repeating, finally trying to soak in what they’d worked so hard to achieve was more difficult than they’d imagined.
“It’s just unreal,” she said three different times. “Just unreal.”
In consolation play, Panguitch swept Rich 26-24, 25-16, 26-24 to earn third place. Monticello defeated Duchesne 25-16, 25-17, 25-19 for fifth place, and Wayne defeated Tabiona 28-30, 25-23, 25-16, 25-16 to earn sixth place.