Every time we gave them a free ball, they came back with a swing. Ridgeline was a good team. They didn’t give us anything. They kept sending everything back. —Desert Hills head coach Sharon Christensen
OREM — As the Desert Hills volleyball team fought for their season in the 4A state tournament Wednesday night, they had to decide if their desire to win outweighed their fear of losing.
In their final timeout against a talented and relentless Ridgeline team, head coach Sharon Christensen told her players that their effort would decide the fate of their state-title dreams.
“I told them that the only way we were going to win was to earn it,” she said after the Thunder held off an upset-minded Ridgeline team with 23-25, 25-15, 25-16, 25-23 win in the second round of the 4A state tournament. “We had to earn it with aggressive play. If you get a swing, you’ve got to go for it.”
Playing it safe just wasn’t working against a Ridgeline team that gave the third-ranked Thunder a variety of challenges in their four-set match at UVU’s UCCU Center.
“Every time we gave them a free ball, they came back with a swing,” Christensen said. “Ridgeline was a good team. They didn’t give us anything. They kept sending everything back.”
One of the toughest thing for teenage players to do is keep playing aggressively when the game gets tight.
“I felt good about our kids that they stayed aggressive and they kept attacking,” she said. “I wanted to finish it in four, if we had the chance.”
Desert Hills was led by Madi Clark, who had 17 kills, and Allie Beck, who added 13 kills. Kami Bliss added 10 kills, while Kylee Christensen finished with six kills. Andie Sonju finished with 22 assists and 11 digs, while Saselah Goulding earned 22 assists and 16 digs. Halle Sonju led the team’s defense with 28 digs, while Clark added 24 digs.
“Madi Clark has played well for us all year,” Christensen said. “She’s kind of been our leader. She’s not talkative, but she does a good job of staying focused. And she’s not afraid to get up and swing.”
She said the team may have been a little nervous as they had a slow start against Tooele before beating the Buffalo 25-14, 25-12, 25-21. She said this season’s success, which includes a region title, was the result of great team play.
“One thing about our team,” she said, “it takes all of us out there in order to do it.”
Christensen coached at North Sanpete for 30 years before retiring nine years ago. She recently moved to St. George to be near her mother and came out of retirement to coach her daughter, middle hitter Kylee Christensen, a junior on the Thunder roster.
“I’ve just been trying to fit in, trying to mentor kids, encourage them,” she said. “I feel a little rusty myself. I am happy to be part of this program. The people before me built a good program, and North Sanpete was a good program. I am pretty lucky.”
On an adjacent court, second-ranked Park City swept Green Canyon with a 25-21, 25-21, 25-13 victory. Park City and Desert Hills will square off in the semifinals Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
In the other bracket, Snow Canyon defeated Mountain Crest 29-27, 25-19, 13-25, 25-23, to advance to the semifinal at 12:30 p.m. The Warriors will take on top-ranked Sky View after the Bobcats defeated Dixie 25-22, 25-11, 25-22.
Snow Canyon came into the tournament the No. 3 seed after losing its last two region games to Desert Hills and Dixie.
"I wasn't sure how we'd respond coming on two losses," said head coach Ryan Rarick, adding that they practiced as hard as they could in the week leading up to the tournament. "They made a commitment to each other that they were going to fight, and that they were never going to quit no matter what the score was. ...When they got down, they didn’t give up and kept fighting back. I was just super proud of them."
Sammi Johnston led the team with 24 kills against Juan Diego and 18 kills in the win over Mountain Crest.
"She was a superstar today," he said. "She really took it to another level today."