Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Northridge volleyball coach Shauna Haney talks to her team during timeout of recent game.

LAYTON — Allora Tanner's aunt suggested she try out for volleyball in seventh grade because she was likely going to be a tall girl.

Larissa Reynolds' love of all things athletic drew her to the gymnasium in seventh grade.

"I loved sports," said Reynolds, a senior and captain of the Northridge volleyball team. "So I tried out for all of them."

Tanner said she'd never even touched a volleyball before she went to the junior high tryout.

"It was so much fun," said the junior outside hitter for the Knights. "I wasn't very good right away. But it was fun to play with the girls."

Both girls have become key players — and emotional leaders — for the Knights in what is shaping up to be a more difficult season than anyone would have predicted.

Last year the Knights navigated region play with just two losses. This year, they already have three region losses and they haven't even hit the midway point in the season.

"It's been hard on them," said head coach Shauna Haney. "We didn't have that many downs last year or even the year before."

Instead of giving up, the girls are finding ways to use their disappointments to their advantage.

"We're talking a lot about adversity," said Haney. "We're talking about making through these situations and getting stronger. It's been a challenge to lose more matches than we lost all last year. But it's something they're still trying to fight through."

For Reynolds the fight is more urgent. She is one of two seniors — the other being defensive specialist Becca Hansen — and doesn't want to end her high school career with a mediocre finish.

"The seniors are trying to get the other girls to feel how it feels to be in their final year," Haney said.

Reynolds, who maintains a 3.9 GPA, said she finds trying to motivate others a difficult task because her personality is more reserved, more introverted.

"When I start making mistakes, I'll clam up and be mad at myself," she said.

She said she firmly believes if the players rely on each other, there is no team they can't beat.

"I think we're going to have a breakthrough," she said. "We have a lot of potential. I think we just have to work as a team."

Tanner, who moved from the middle to outside hitter, agrees with Reynolds' assessment.

"We can't win without playing together, and I think we just need to think about that," she said.

One of the things Haney loves about her players is that they're willing to do what's best for the team. Both Reynolds and Tanner have changed positions more than once in an effort to try and help the team play better volleyball.

Tanner started in the middle as a sophomore, but over the summer, Haney saw new skills emerging in the energetic player.

"Just watching her in the summer I realized her abilities as far as putting the ball away," said Haney. "At the team camp at Dixie State, she played incredible. We realized how effective she could be from the outside."

Additionally, Tanner emerged as one of the team's top passers, a skill that often eludes players who do not play back row much. She didn't play back row her entire sophomore season.

"This is her first year playing back row, and I think she is doing a tremendous job back there passing," Haney said.

Off the court, Tanner is easygoing. On the court, she's intense and emotional.

"She expects a lot out of herself," said her coach. "She's hard on herself. Off the court, she's easygoing; she's a happy kid."

Reynolds is a lot of energy packed in a smaller package than coaches normally look for in an outside hitter.

"Her ability really lies in her power," Haney said. "She's not very big. She's only 5-8."

Reynolds said she's been told a few times that she's too short to play outside hitter.

"I kind of out-jump them and prove them wrong," she said with a slight laugh.

Haney said Reynolds has made herself into one of the most consistent, most powerful hitters in the region.

"She really has worked on her fundamental skills," said the coach. "She's worked on that explosiveness. She's strong and she's a fighter."

Reynolds is also one of the team's top passers.

"I think that she's just that solid go-to player," Haney said. "Game in and game out she's consistently getting the job done. I think the kids know they can count on her. She's very, very competitive. But she's a quiet leader; she leads more by example."

Tanner loves volleyball because it is as challenging mentally as it is physically.

"You have to be so competitive," she said. "It's really all mental. You have to control everything you do."

Reynolds said one of the most valuable lessons she's learned playing volleyball is responsibility.

"We have to run a mile if we do something wrong, so it starts out that we don't want to run," she said. "And then it becomes more of a pride thing. We want to be responsible."