Overlooked? Underrated? The Region 14 volleyball programs are all hoping that's what people are saying about their league at the end of the year. As usual, everything revolves around Region 12, especially talk of the San Juan dynasty. But the teams from the league up north are all hoping to sneak through and show everyone in 2A that they too have teams that can play.
Last year, the league managed to grab fifth, seventh and eighth place in the 2A state tournament, and they're definitely hoping to enhance that finish this season.
Perhaps the team with the most hope for a little improvement according to Region 14 foes is North Summit. Though they lost four starters from last year's team, they are returning talent and experience, mostly in the form of Janessa Williams, whom North Summit coach Samantha Stephens calls one of the best setters in 2A.
"I'm hoping our seniors will lead us where we want to go," Stephens said of her pair of seniors in Williams and outside hitter Sofia Stephens. "Stephens is a great hitter and all-around passer. And she hates to lose."
Stephens added that she will also be counting heavily on five juniors, whom she said were playing well at early tournaments.
They had a little bit of a boost early in the season when middle blocker Taylor Shepherd moved into the team boundaries from Montana. At 6-foot-0 she is the tallest player on the team and has some experience. She'll be joined by Hayley Richins on the outside, McCall Richins at libero, Kendra Richins at opposite and McKenzee Murdoch in the middle.
South Summit has also garnered some early-season attention, mostly because of the return of middle blocker Amberlee Page, who was named first-team all-state last season and is a huge part of the Wildcats' offense.
Outside hitter Emily Kueser will also be counted on heavily, in spite of the fact that she is only a sophomore. She has some experience and has played club ball.
"She's a good addition, and she has a lot of potential," said South Summit coach Kristen Estes, who acknowledges that her team is going to be really young.
"I am pleased with what we did at the preseason tourney. We have high expectations as usual, and these girls are stepping up in practice and working really hard," she added.
But they will be led by a pair of young sophomore setters in Teresa Chamberlain and Paige Peterson. Juniors Marci Jones and Megan Peterson will also get plenty of playing time.
Layton Christian also lost a truckload of players off of last year's squad to graduation, transfers and such, all adding up to eight girls gone from last year's team. But they will be returning a pair of players with talent and experience.
Most notably the Eagles will count on junior Jasmine Porter, a middle blocker who's been playing varsity since her freshman year.
"She blocks well and hits really well, and she's being highly recruited," said Layton Christian coach Joy Nakaishi.
Senior outside hitter Barbara Fields comes in with three previous seasons of high school experience, and a junior from Japan, Kristine Reddington, will also ply her skills from the outside.
Sophomore Taelor Scroggins will man the setting position, and a pair of freshman will ply their wares at middle blocker in Melina Bachtar and Emily Jessop.
"We're going to give it our all, but to be honest this is a rebuilding year," said Nakaishi.
That theme seems to run rampant throughout the Region 14 ranks, as not only are the top three teams in rebuilding modes for the most part, the other three teams seem to be doing the same thing.
But Rowland Hall coach Kendra Tomsic has high hopes for her group.
Though four seniors graduated from the program last year, four seniors are returning to the court this season for the Winged Lions.
"All of them are good all-around players. This is a highly skilled group that really love the game. They're practicing well and excited about the season and it's prospects," said Tomsic, who hopes her team will manage a top three placement in Region 14.
Setter Erin Lence is a four-year starter, who plays all around and can hit as well. Outside hitter Allison Reed is also starting her fourth year of varsity play. She is a "smart hitter, who has intelligent placement and solid angles," said Tomsic.
Libero Chloe Joesten is "fearless" and tough with plenty of hustle and enthusiasm to her game, according to Tomsic, and outside Coleen Franquelin is versatile and takes on any role her coach asks of her.
Sophomore Ashley Bostrom is a setter, who is inexperienced at the position, but her coach says she's learning quickly. Namoona Kwendakwema is 6-foot-2 and a solid blocker. Nicola Klambt is coming in from Germany and will be a nice surprise addition to the team in the middle.
Dhemerae Ford will set and play the right side after returning from a preseason injury. American Leadership will not only be breaking in a few new players after finishing last season with a disappointing 0-10 record in Region 14 and a 3-12 overall record, but they will also bring in a new coach. Sheldon Carvalho is bringing his skills all the way from Kauai, Hawaii to see if his system can help the Eagles.
"I wanted to take on a challenge and to see if my system could help the team," Carvalho said, noting that his team will be young once again and has only two seniors, one being Miranda Cahill, who will be starting at libero.
She transferred from Pleasant Grove as her family moved to Spanish Fork during the off season. The other senior is Vanessa Lauson, who is a vocal leader and will play right side, outside and middle blocker for the team. This group is a versatile bunch as junior Amanda Tuttle will also tackle several positions for the Eagles.
"She has good ball handling skills, she's a great digger, and she's reliable to get the ball in as a hitter," said Carvalho, who noted that his team's biggest strength is their great teamwork and ability to learn.
Junior Sarah Madson will be setting, though she is also one of the team's best hitters, and outside MacKenna Poulter is an outside hitter and captain on the squad.
Junior Alex Knight and sophomore Jamie Hodgson are both starting at middle, and three more sophomores in Annika Crocket, Ashley Lewis and Vicki Hext round out the team.
The Juab Wasps also came on strong at the end of last season, picking up an eighth place finish at the state tournament with their scrappy play.All six of these schools will earn their way into the 2A playoffs this season, but they'll be fighting tooth and nail for higher positions in the tourney and a better showing against other 2A schools.