Some people like to say it's parity. Some people claim it's good competition. Others insist there are just upsets galore. But, whatever it is, Region 7 volleyball seems almost impossible to handicap year-in and year-out.

Last season there were five teams at the top trying to steal matches and games from each other, trying to snag a piece of the region trophy and a shot at a place in the state tourney. This season the top group might be pared down to four, but don't tell that to the other three teams vying to grab a spot in the 4A playoffs.

No, this region didn't turn many heads during the 4A state tournament last season as only one team even finished in the top eight with Springville snaring the final place at the tournament with an even-par two wins and two losses at the Utah Valley site. But the entire group is hoping to change not only the state's perception of them as a whole but also their success in the playoffs this season.

Perhaps the best way to do that will be for the Orem Tigers to come out roaring and head into the tourney with plenty of confidence. Yes, the Tigers are the team to beat according to Region 7 foes, who say Orem won it last year and lost a mere two players from its championship team.

"I'm very confident. In years past I've seen what these girls can do, and this year they have more experience and more confidence, and now they want to achieve certain goals. This year it's not just me," said Orem coach Natalie Kidman about her latest group of athletes.

She admits that Region 7 is always closely matched and competitive, and could always be anybody's year, though most of the coaches in the region agree the top four programs this season hail from Orem, Springville, Provo and Mountain View.

"I'm just excited for a fun year. These girls are serious athletes, and they want to go out there and take care of business," added Kidman, who noted that her team's depth this season will only make her team that much better than it was in last year's championship year.

Though they went into the tournament as the Region 7 champs, the Tigers fell apart at state with two quick losses. Kidman is hoping they'll be able to reverse that trend this year.

She'll be counting heavily on outside hitters April Robins and Ella Moe, who both played plenty of minutes last season. And perhaps the biggest improvement has been shown by sophomore phenom Hannah Robison, who showed potential last year as a freshman but was rather tentative at times.

After an off season in club ball, that cautiousness has turned into tenacity, and Robison is already proving herself a tough opponent from the right side.

Temeeka Jones, Kaysie Taylor and Sarah Hansen will be manning the middle, while Shelby Lamoreaux and Elisha Le have things covered at setter. Rylee Robinson will take care of business in the back court from the libero spot. Many players on the team are versatile and will be switching positions as the season progresses.

The Springville Red Devils are not willing to concede anything to the Tigers and plan to battle yet again for a top spot in this competitive region.

"We want to improve on last year. We want to be top five at state," said Springville coach Wade Taylor.

His team lost a pair of players who were solid contributors for the Red Devils, but the coach isn't concerned about his new group stepping up to the challenge this season.

Lindsay Barker will be leading the team from the outside, and Taylor noted that she will be the team's anchor after a great club season.

A pair of setters will man the court for the Red Devils in Kelsie Ainge and Jenny Stott, and sophomore Turia Andrus will step up to the plate on the right side. Senior Miranda Littleton will fire things up from the back court as the team's libero for the third straight year, and Taylor claims nothing ruffles his solid defender.

Taylor Steed and Amberlee Allred will take care of things in the middle, and the team will welcome junior Sheay Albana and sophomore Kristen Spencer to the lineup.

While Springville and Orem are trying to make names for themselves, the Provo Bulldogs will be attempting a comeback to the glory years when just the name threw fear into the hearts of their opponents. Though they continue a steady stream of playoff appearances, the last few years have ended in slight disappointment at the tourney level. Team captain Samara Ellsworth will move to the setter spot this season and will continue to win points with her serve. Senior Kara Griffin and sophomore Cassidy Christiansen will power it from the outside. Ashton Hudspeth will man the middle, and My Trang Ha will come up from junior varsity into the libero position. Kelci Koop will join the team as a versatile player who "can play anywhere," according to Provo coach Wendy Bills.

"If we can take care of serves and passing, we should be okay this year," said Bills, whose team lost it's starting setter and two defensive specialists last season, but is now looking to come on strong with an extra year of experience for most of the girls and a new player that Bills said will be turning some heads.

Freshman Whitney Butler will be playing both right side and middle blocker, and Bills believes it's a good idea for those in Utah County volleyball to keep an eye on her right from the start.

Butler is not the only new athlete that people will be watching in Region 7... First-year Mountain View coach Andy Young said that a sophomore transfer to his school from Arizona should make people take notice as well.

Chelsey Schofield is 6-foot-1 and a "great all-around player. She can do anything," Young added.

She will be joined on the court by a couple of other sophomores, including outside Haley Hawks and middle blocker Jenica Redd. Heather Glassford will bring back loads of experience at setter and outside hitter, while Amy Conrad will set for the team as well.

Emily Steele, Cassidy Oldham and Camille Redd are other seniors who'll see playing time. And the team will welcome 6-foot-1 freshman Rachel Steele, who will join older sister Emily at the middle position.

"I've been pleasantly surprised," said Young, who notes that so far his team seems to be gelling quite well.

Those are the four preseason coaches' picks for the final playoff spots, but first-year Payson coach Amber Hall is hoping her squad can sneak into a spot.

"We graduated a substantial amount of our team, but I feel good about it. I expect them to be a little rusty," said Hall, who admits she's trying to get a program built.

Seniors Morgan Bateman and Katherin Caldwell will play in the middle, while juniors Alanna Finlayson and Heather Woodland will start on the outside. Melissa Orton will return from a year on the cheering squad to full-time volleyball action, while Brooke Hiatt is leaving the team to concentrate on basketball.

Cassandra Unga, Heather Finch, Carolyn Larsen and Chelsea Dimond will round out the starting squad for the inexperienced Payson team.

Another inexperienced group will be coming together as a team for the Timpview T-Birds with first-year coach Kristen Bailey leading the way.

"We're continuing to build a program here. We've struggled the last five or six years, but we might be able to upset some teams this season that are looking past us," said Bailey.

The two seniors that will be leading the way are setter Tani Freeze and middle Brianne Gordon, but much of the team is made up from the junior ranks.. Maddie Huddelston, Brianna Hill, Tichelle Hill and Hannah Stone will all play plenty of minutes as juniors, and they will be joined by sophomore Janessa Lambe, whom Bailey notes is looking pretty good early on.

But the team will also be bringing up a pair of freshmen to the varsity ranks in Katie Jamison and Rachel Stone, who will both be playing the right side.

Tooele will also be looking to improve on last year's tie with Timpview for sixth place in the league.

The region will be welcoming three new head coaches, so even if the league plays out as usual without a clear favorite and all teams beating up on each other throughout the year, there will be plenty of new blood around to experience the topsy-turvy world of Region 7 volleyball.

E-mail: [email protected]