HIGHLAND It's easy for a coach to tell players to focus only on the things they can control. But when the team across the net is your biggest rival, you're playing on their court and their student body is loud, proud and harassing your every movement, well, it becomes a little harder to actually do that.
"This is a really fun place to play," said Pleasant Grove coach Jamie Schapper after the Vikings won a thriller 28-26, 22-25, 22-25, 26-24, 15-7. "I knew all we had to do was settle down and play our game."
Easier said than done, especially against one of the most deep and versatile squads in the state.
"They are an amazing team," said Schapper. "They played very well. It's nice they're in our region (which enables) us to get ready for state. This win really makes a statement. We needed to win on their court to set the tone. This game is always intense."
The win improves the Vikings record to 21-0, which any coach knows adds a little more stress to an already pressure-packed season.
"Yeah, but we already have a target on our backs," said Schapper smiling. "We just have to be ready to play everyone."
The top-ranked Vikings jumped out to a lead in every game against the third-ranked Knights, although usually not more than a point or two. Except for game five, the teams were in a battle for every point, and both teams played phenomenal defensively.
Libero Heidi Lloyd led the Vikings with 31 digs, while outside hitters Danica Mendivil and Brooke McAllister earned 17 and 15 kills respectively. McAllister, who will play for the University of Utah next year, also picked up 18 digs, while Mendivil added 20 digs.
Right side hitter Jennifer Hamsen finished with 11 kils and six solo blocks. Setter Kemi McFarland earned 32 assists, but midway through game two, Schapper subbed Rae Mulitalo in on the back row for McFarland, who is much taller.
"Kemi's been struggling with her serves, so we've been using Rae," said Schapper. "And Rae sets Danica really well. They've been clicking together."
Schapper said the team was adjusting to the potent Knight offense and then trying to do what they do best.
"It took a little bit of correcting our defense in that second game," said Schapper. "They used that back row attack and we had to make some corrections. Once we did, it really wasn't a factor for us. It was just a matter of playing our own game."
Lone Peak's crowd was loud and Mendivil admitted they crowd gave the Knights an edge at times.
"First of all, it's so hard to focus, especially with this Lone Peak crowd always up in your face, and we just kind of let it get to us," said Danica Mendivil. "We were just trying to relax. ... This was so crazy, so close. It was so exciting."
McAllister said she actually uses the enery of the hecklers to her advantage.
"For me the crowd is motivation," she said. "They're telling me to miss my serve, and then I aced it. It's intimidating to play here, but it also give syou adreneline."
The Knights were led by senior setter Heather Hanneman, who finished with 45 assists, and was solid at the net and serving. Libero Anna Burgess was huge with 29 digs, while Cami Richan came off the bench and picked up 14 digs. Aubrey Mauna led the offense with 16 kills, while sophomore Ashlan Rogers added 15 kills and 15 digs. Middle hitter Ashton Gray added 11 kills and three blocks.
Lone Peak coach was disappointed that her team allowed Pleasant Grove to jump out to an 8-1 lead in the fifth game, but some positive aspects of the nearly 2 1/2 hour match as well."They came out stronger in that game," she said. "Our passing broke down in the fifth game and we couldn't run our offense ... I'm always proud of the way my team plays and at times they showed a lot of heart. We need to string together those moments when we're playing well. Together we need to maximize our opportunities and minimize those mistakes."