SALT LAKE CITY — Talent is not always enough to make someone a winner.
Especially in team sports, it takes chemistry and leadership, as well as great strategy and gifted athletes. This year's Deseret News volleyball MVPs used their unique personalities to improve their own contributions while inspiring their teammates to new heights.
The Deseret News honors these five outstanding players for their skill, leadership ability and success — on and off the court.
Rachel Gale, Pleasant Grove
An early-season loss to Timpview was so disappointing, the Pleasant Grove volleyball team decided to work out together immediately afterward.
“After two days of playing volleyball in the Rocky Mountain (Classic) Tournament, we went back to our weight room and did a very difficult workout,” said Viking head coach Allyce Jones. “The girls were pushing themselves to the max. Drenched in sweat, some of them even had tears (running) down their cheeks.”
So when it came time to finish, the coach knew her players couldn’t end with the usual high-fives and “good job.” She looked specifically at one of her team captains — senior outside hitter Rachel Gale.
“I asked them, ‘What do you think we should do?’” Jones recalled. “And Rachel, being the kind, compassionate person that she is, said, ‘I love you.’ I looked at her and said, ‘That’s perfect, Rach.’”
That match would not be the last the Vikings would lose. But thanks to the leadership of Gale and her co-captains, the team ultimately earned a region title and the 5A state championship.
“She’s a kid who, every practice, every workout, she’s giving 100 percent,” Jones said. “She’s one of those leaders in practice who makes sure everyone is working their hardest. She’s a great motivator to the team.”
And it didn’t hurt that Gale is one of the state’s most gifted volleyball players, either. The Utah State signee finished the season with 414 kills, 216 digs and 31 aces. She averaged 4.2 kills per set for an offense that boasted a lot of weapons.
“She has a lot of range in her hitting,” Jones said. “She just swings around the block extremely well.”
Gale never stopped trying to develop her talent, and as she gained more experience, she became more valuable to her team.
“She definitely became a better passer,” Jones said. “She got a lot stronger as she got older.”
And Gale works just as hard in the classroom, maintaining a 3.98 GPA.
Jessie Jorgensen, Timpview
When coach Kristen Bailey was trying to turn the Timpview volleyball program around six years ago, she realized there was a difference between what she expected of her players and what they thought was possible for themselves.
The task of instilling confidence and high expectations in players who’d never been part of a winning program became much easier when a little girl from her home town of Mt. Pleasant moved to Provo.
“Her parents are from North Sanpete, and I knew who they were,” Bailey said. “I was kind of a little embarrassed because our program wasn’t great, but I knew the whole team was very athletic.”
And when it came to the kid from Mt. Pleasant, Jessie Jorgensen, Bailey knew the first day she saw her play with the T-Birds that she would help change the program.
“She elevated the whole program,” Bailey said. “She brought an intensity to practice. We knew we were going to have something special.”
Bailey said she told her players she didn’t want a ball to ever hit the ground during practice.
“But no one really thought they could get every ball up,” she said. “I told them, ‘You never know until you try.’”
Jorgensen dove for everything. And eventually, she started getting some of those hopeless balls back in play.
“Then the girls started thinking, ‘Hey, we can really go for those and we might get them,'” Bailey said. “She just dedicated herself to every play, every ball.”
Jorgensen ran a potent offense with precision and confidence. She led the T-Birds to the 4A state title without losing a set and finished the season with 478 assists, 275 digs and 197 kills. She also had 61 aces and 55 blocks. She maintains a 3.93 GPA, is involved in numerous volunteer organizations, and was named the Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year last week. She’s signed with the University of Utah.
“It is just fun to watch her play,” Bailey said. “She is one of those players who makes you want to play volleyball.”
Malary Reid, Hurricane
Malary Reid moved to a new school her senior year after spending her junior season sidelined with a knee injury.
Her first few practices with her new coach were less than impressive.
“She was trying to adjust and to learn the speed of the game the way we like to play,” said Hurricane head coach Daniel McKeehan. “When we went and played at the Lone Peak Tournament, against Idaho, she had 15 kills. And that’s when, all of a sudden, it clicked for her. After that, she was absolutely dominant with that quick set.”
Reid’s most impressive stat is her hitting percentage — a state-leading .447 percent.
Her play in the middle gave the Tigers versatility that made them very difficult to defend. Her hitting, in particular, was tough to read because of a little quirk in her swing, McKeehan said.
“She naturally turns the ball back to the setter,” he said, noting that she has learned to make adjustments and change where she hits at will. “But that really helped her confidence seeing balls go down and down and down.”
She’s also a track athlete, which helps with her athleticism.
“She jumps extremely well,” McKeehan said. “She’s so strong, just a really strong kid.”
Reid finished with 175 kills in leading the Tigers to a second-place finish in region play and a 3A state title. It was in the final state tournament game that Hurricane swept Region 9 champion Desert Hills, a team the Tigers had lost to three times this season.
“Teams started triple blocking here, which opened things up for our other hitters,” McKeehan said. “She’s quiet, unassuming and doesn’t ever want to be in the spotlight. Malary is such a nice kid, and we have the world’s nicest girls, so they welcomed her right in. She had best friends instantly. ... She was big in the middle for us.”
Riley Lyman, Enterprise
Watch Riley Lyman play volleyball for five minutes and even the most uneducated observer can see her athletic talent. But it’s not just her skill that allowed the junior middle blocker to help the Enterprise Wolves to a 2A state volleyball title.
“Her competitiveness,” said head coach Brian Phelps when asked what Lyman’s greatest strength is. “You don’t have every athlete with that competitive fire that you want. She’s one of those who wants to win no matter what you’re doing.”
Whether it’s a drill in practice or a point in a game — Lyman wants to win.
“She led more by example,” Phelps said. “We had two seniors who were also captains. Together, they brought a lot of really good unity for our team.”
Lyman led the team with 321 digs and 197 block kills. That’s a new state record — by three kills. The old record was held by Lyman’s older sister.
“I had her at outside last year, but this year, I needed her block really bad,” Phelps said. After too many second-place finishes, Phelps said the team wanted to make whatever adjustments were necessary to win the title this season. This year’s championship was the school's first in 23 years.
“We had to do better. We had to block better,” Phelps said. “We thought we really got beat on the front, at the net. We thought we out-passed people, out-served people. But we didn’t out-hit or out-block them. She’s made a huge difference in that area for us.”
Britt Sederholm, St. Joseph
Ray Franklin heard about the talented volleyball player at the junior high before he ever saw Britt Sederholm.
But he kept his expectations modest because, well, coaches hear a lot of hype about a lot of players.
“The first day she showed up to practice, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe it!’” he said. “She was already, as a freshman on the varsity level, as good or better than the players I had. She was definitely a good hitter and very good at the net blocking.”
But the four-year starter who led the Jayhawks to their first 1A state volleyball title in school history had something that’s a lot harder to teach than hitting, blocking and serving.
“She just had that game sense to go along with her skill level,” Franklin said. “She could anticipate what was going to happen. She knew if she needed to adjust, go off-speed. She kind of predicted things before they actually happened.”
That intuitive play usually comes after a few years of varsity experience. Part of Sederholm’s success may come from playing club volleyball with Franklin’s assistant, Cindy White. White's daughter, Mady, who is the 1A defensive MVP, was playing, so Cindy began coaching the girls when they were 10.
Sederholm led the team with 365 kills, 154 digs, 90 aces and a .398 hitting percentage.
Franklin said that in addition to the time Sederholm has given to improving her game, she is also a natural competitor.
“She is probably, in addition to Mady and Jessie (Bischoff), probably the most competitive girls on the team,” he said. “Her work ethic this year was by far the best. She came into this season with pretty much a mission. Her talent, her work ethic, her leadership — this year kind of all came together for her.”
Photo credits: Matt Gade, Deseret News