HIGHLAND The San Juan Broncos' goal right now is to play with the big kids at the Asics Rocky Mountain Champions Classic volleyball tournament, which features most of the top competition in the state.
The Broncos haven't been able to win a match yet at the 16-team tournament, but they have proven something, perhaps more to themselves than to their opponents, despite losing much more than they believed they would this past summer, they still have a team to be reckoned with.
"Four of our top five hitters are all brand new, but here at this tournament they're going to have to mature quickly. They don't have any summer experience because we had so many kids that didn't come back that we thought we would have," said San Juan coach Cassy Moon.
"This year we're here with three seniors, and they're all on the back row," she added, noting that their setter Sagan Shumway is included in that list. But the team only returns one hitter from last year's 2A state championship season in Alyssa Simpson, who did stuff four blocks against the tough Viewmont Vikings in the first round of the Champions Classic, which is being held for the second straight year at both Lone Peak and Lehi high schools.
Perhaps the biggest loss the Broncos suffered during the summer was that of all-state outside hitter Heather Meyer, who tore her ACL and will not be playing with the team.
Two other hitters also chose not to return to the San Juan team this season, but the Broncos are happy to welcome Meyer's younger sister, sophomore Kelsi Meyer to their hitting lineup. She led the team with seven kills against the Vikings and will be counted on heavily all season long for the San Juan team that is not only fighting against its heavy summer losses but also against high expectations the "dynasty" label has created in recent years.
Alisha Tate, Brooke Bowring and Briona Laws are all easing into the hitting spots on the state's perennial top 2A team, which went on to lose to Lone Peak 25-16, 25-11 after dropping a hard-fought match to Viewmont 25-20, 25-16.
The Broncos hung with the Vikings and even led for a short while in the middle of Game 1, but "we had some brain freeze for three or four serves," said Moon, who is still trying to figure her team out even as the Region 12 season begins and they have to battle tough foes like Richfield, North Sevier and South Sevier. The Broncos weren't the only returning state champs to show up at the Champions Classic, and they weren't the only favorites this season that are showing their fare at the elite tournament.
Other compelling games at the Lone Peak site saw Hunter take Cottonwood to the extreme limit as they finally succumbed to a 13-25, 26-24, 18-16 defeat in perhaps the best match of the tournament. The Layton Lancers also found themselves embroiled in a pair of three-game matches that went down to the wire, finally losing to Cottonwood 15-13 in the third and defeating a surprising Hunter squad 15-12 in the third.
The host Lone Peak Knights didn't have any trouble with any of their competition as they won all three of their matches in straight games. Pleasant Grove had to battle a little harder against that same pesky Hunter group as the Vikings finally pulled out the second game 30-28 to pull off their own sweep of their three matches at the tournament.
At the Lehi site, five matches went the distance, including two with the host Pioneers, who lost to Fremont 15-13 in the third and defeated Hurricane 15-12 in a tough third game. Fremont also had to go to three games to take out Hurricane 15-10 and go undefeated in the tournament so far.The other team to take out all three of its opponents was the Brighton Bengals, who found themselves in big trouble against Snow Canyon, finally pulling it out 16-14 in the third. They also needed three games to defeat North Sanpete, but finished their pool play as the fourth undefeated team in the tournament. The top two teams in each pool will find themselves playing at Lone Peak today, while the third and fourth place teams will continue pool play at Lehi.