Last year the Davis volleyball team had the advantage of catching a few teams off guard.
It wasn't until near the end of the year that the Darts were ranked No. 1, and by then, they were playing their best volleyball.
This year, however, the squad will have to try and defend that title with the full weight of high expectations from their first match.
"Last year we were able to stay under the radar, but everywhere we go, everybody we see, they want to beat us," said Davis coach Lori Salvo.
That's because everybody wants to be the defending state champs.
"We're not going to be under the radar this year so we'll just do our best to play hard and hope we can have another great year," said Salvo. "We have a lot of kids coming back with a lot of great potential."
Davis boasts a deep group of outside hitters in seniors Camille Walker, Tani Langston, Kaylie Kamalu and Marissa Todd, and junior Kendall Sargent. The Darts have nine players with varsity experience back and excited about defending that 5A title. Todd recently committed to Idaho State.
"I don't think we've talked about it enough yet," Salvo said of discussing how much more difficult it is to defend a title than it is to win one. "But we're going to. It's a different year. It's not going to be perfect, but we're come to every match prepared."
She said the team feels more pressure because of their own expectations.
"The pressure we feel is what we put on ourselves," she said. "Not what other people put on us."
While Davis was voted No. 1 in preseason polls, Lone Peak wasn't far behind in the balloting. The Knights have won or played for the title so consistently that it seemed an aberration they finished the tournament in fourth place.
Keep in mind that Lone Peak met Davis in the semifinals because the Knights, Pleasant Grove and Lehi all tied for first place in one of the roughest region races in any sport.
Lone Peak head coach Deanna Meyer sees the tough region race as a positive for her team — especially this season.
"What most people may not realize is that we were really young last year," she said of the squad that is ranked 68th in the country by Prepvolleyball.com. "This is probably the deepest team we've had in a long time. I'm really excited about this year."
It isn't just the team's talent, which is headlined by senior outside hitter Kizzy Willey, who just got back from representing the U.S. in the NORCECA Championships in Nicaragua. She made the U.S. high performance team, which is how USA volleyball finds and trains future Olympians.
"The girls work really hard, they're pretty unified, and really motivated to get back in the final," she said. "We have a really good defensive player, three really good setters. We're big on the right side, big on the outside, and really deep. It'll be a good season, if we just play to our potential."
Meyer said she understands why Davis was picked as the state's top team.
"I think Davis is a good choice," she said. "They're the defending state champs."
Still, when it comes to volleyball, she knows anything is possible.
"I think anybody's beatable," she said.
While the Knights were voted the top squad of Region 4, Pleasant Grove and Lehi also received enough votes to finish in the top five statewide poll. Bingham and Riverton will also be extremely talented, so the battle in Region 4 should again be a tough one.
Pleasant Grove was voted No. 3 and returns Melissa Fuchs, Rachel Gale and Delayne Daniel, all of whom promise to make the team a contender.
"With returning experience and dedication, we look to have a very successful year in region and state," said head coach Allyce Jones.
Davis may have the edge in Region 1, but two of the three matches the Darts lost last season were in region play. Layton was picked as the state's fifth-best team and has been solid year after year.
Fremont could be in the mix, as well, with returning starters Sariah Pelaez, Sierra Green and Rachel Nish.
"We lost three senior starters and a starting middle (to injury) so it may take some time to find our feet," said head coach Brock Mitchell. "We do have some talented athletes filling those roles and in the end should be very competitive."
In Region 3, Taylorsville, which will rely on a lot of young players this season as it graduated most of its varsity starters, earned the top spot. The Warriors will no doubt have a lot of competition from Viewmont and Hunter, as well as Kearns.
Brighton was voted the top team in Region 2, and with two returning varsity starters in outside hitters Mandy Taft and Manda Thomas, should compete for the region title. Jordan and Alta should be tough, as well, and Copper Hills, under the direction of a new coach, is off to one of the best starts in recent memory.
Preseason rankings (based on coaches' votes)
2. Lone Peak
3. Pleasant Grove
4. West Jordan
6. Copper Hills
1. Lone Peak
2. Pleasant Grove
6. American Fork
1. Salem Hills
5. Sky View
1. Sky View
2. Box Elder
3. Mtn. Crest
2. Woods Cross
1. Salem Hills
3. Maple Mountain
7. Mountain View
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