OREM — One scary match; one fairly easy win.

That's how Monticello's players described their first two matches of the 1A state tournament at UVSC's McKay Events Center on Thursday. The Buckaroos won a nail-biter over St. Joseph, 25-17, 24-26, 25-19, 25-21, in the first round and then swept Region 18 champion Tintic, 25-18, 25-10, 25-10, in the tournament's second round.

And while their third straight appearance in the semifinals might surprise some, it's exactly what these athletes thought they could do if they worked hard.

"We all get along so well," said sophomore Mersadez Slade, one of three returning varsity players. "When you're friends, it makes your team stronger."

Slade earned 20 kills in the win over St. Joseph and six kills in the victory over Tintic. Teammate Ashley Dowell, a senior middle hitter, had 21 kills against the Jayhawks and 11 kills in the second match against the Miners.

Coach Tony Esplin knew his team was capable of competing with the state's best but wasn't sure how the players would respond to the holes left by last year's seniors.

"Hopefully we're peaking at the right time," he said. "We struggled in that first game against St. Joseph ... but we came out with a win. I'm happy to be in the semis with only three girls that had any varsity experience."

The Buckaroos won the Region 19 title, so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. But they don't see a lot of non-region opponents until state.

"It's kind of an advantage and a disadvantage," said Slade. "They don't see us, but we don't know what to expect from them either."

PANGUITCH 3, ALTAMONT 0: The Bobcats were led by freshman middle hitter Kalani Norris, who had 15 kills in leading her squad to the semifinal match with a sweep of Altamont 25-18, 25-16, 25-16. While Panguitch has been to the semifinals before, it is hoping to make it to the tournament's final match.

"The thing we've been stressing this year is just go out and have fun," said coach Troy Norris, who is also Kalani's dad. "They're competitors."

Norris said it is "a lot of fun" having his daughter on the team as they head into the semis ranked second.

"She stepped up and played great tonight," he said. "I'm a little too hard on her sometimes, but it's fun."

Senior Hailey Orton added eight kills, while Shelby Taylor finished with four kills in the win.

The Bobcats and Buckaroos square off at 2 p.m. today.

RICH 3, PIUTE 1: The Rebels earned a berth in the 1A semifinal in one of the more exciting second-round matches with a win over Piute, 25-8, 16-25, 25-11, 25-16.

Junior outside hitter Allie Eastman led the team's offense with 25 kills, while senior setter Olivia Johnson had 26 assists. Senior middle hitter Torey Smith added five kills, while Chelsey Brown served 10 points and five aces in the win. Libero Marsha Stacey passed 15 perfect balls and had 29 digs.

The Rebels played with many of their younger players in the match.

"Those little kids practice so hard, and I always let them play in these early matches because I want them to feel ownership of any state championship," said coach Cindy Stuart. "I don't think anyone can beat us in five games."

The Rebels and ICS face off at 2 p.m. today in the semifinals at UVSC's McKay Events Center.

E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com