WEST VALLEY CITY — For the last month and a half, the Hunter volleyball team has spent every spare minute raising money and planning a tribute to a former team captain who was killed in a car accident in August.
And while they dedicated Tuesday night's Pink Match to Janelle Davidson Tongaonevai's memory, they had to play for each other.
"We pushed so hard selling chips, suckers and raffle tickets — for weeks — that I told them, 'When you step on the court (tonight), it's no longer about what we've been doing; it's about the game,'" said Hunter head coach Pam Olson after the Wolverines upset the Cougars with an important win on a special night. The scores were 25-22, 12-25, 25-18, 22-25, 15-8.
The Pink Match began with a presentation to Tongaonevai's family, including Janelle's husband Ron Tongaonevai, who also attended Hunter and is now a lineman at the University of Utah. Olson gave the family a plaque that expressed the love and gratitude the program and school had for Janelle for her service and compassion for others.
The match, which normally raises money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute through Swing For Life, was also one last opportunity to raise money for Tongaonevai's younger sister, Jazmyn Davidson, who was injured in the accident that took Janelle's life.
Both girls played volleyball at Hunter and were team captains. Davidson was at the match in a T-shirt bearing her sister's picture.
It was an emotional start to a critical region game, and the Wolverines used that energy to their advantage. But they had a little letdown in the second game, which allowed Kearns to steal the momentum and win the second game.
"It was a big game for us," said Olson. "We had tons of alumni here tonight … I told them yesterday, 'This is our game to win.' They had to work hard to do it."
She said the key was how the team has been coming together in the past few matches.
"They're getting better every game at playing as a team instead of individuals," Olson said.
Shalai Matagi, a junior middle hitter, said the team felt a little pressure because the crowd was so much more massive and louder than it usually is.
"We wanted to show them that Hunter volleyball is something to support," said Matagi, who finished with nine kills and five solo blocks. "We started good because of the adrenaline, but it's a long game. It wears on you."
She said the win was huge — and not just because they dedicated the match to Jazmyn and Janelle.
"To me, the biggest thing is that it's a chance to take second place in region," she said. And Matagi agreed with her coach that the team is finding success as a unit.
"There are stil points in the game when we play as individuals, " she said. "I think it's natural to just want to play for yourself and worry about your stats. But we've spent a lot of time together off the court, in class, in the halls, as friends, and the last two or three games we've really come together."
The fundraising will continue at Friday's football game.
Kearns head coach Ryan Knowlton said the Cougars didn't hesitate when asked if they'd participate in the Pink Match.
"We were honored to be able to try and raise money for (Davidson)," he said. "We hope we did a good job."
Tala Faumui led the Cougars with 15 kills, while teammate Micaelee Orton added three solo blocks.