They beat us last year, and that’s all we’ve been wanting all year was to go and get them. —Panguitch middle hitter Abbey Blevins
OREM — Tears of frustration still shimmered in Mataya Barney’s eyes as her team celebrated earning the 1A volleyball championship.
“I’m really proud of (her),” said head coach Troy Norris after top-ranked Panguitch avenged last year’s championship loss to second-ranked Rich by beating the Rebels 25-21, 25-23, 18-25, 25-19 Saturday night at UVU’s UCCU Center. “She kept getting called (for bad set), and a lot of girls would just throw in the towel.”
Barney did what most setters would do. She switched to a bump set, which gave her less control, but also didn’t cost her team a point.
“Our hitters aren’t used to that, and it throws the timing off,” Norris said. “Before the start of the fourth set, I just told her, ‘You’ve got to have confidence in yourself. You’ve got to use your hands. We need you.’ She’s a competitor. She came through for us.”
Barney said she worried the issue would cost her team the dream they’d worked so hard to achieve this last year.
“I got pretty dang frustrated,” said the sophomore setter, who finished with 37 assists. “It was hard for me to be confident in myself. At one point, I kept bump setting it because I was nervous.” She said the conversation with her coach — and some insight from the official making the call — eventually helped her fight through any fear or frustration.
“She said my feet weren’t squared up, so I focused on getting squared up, and focused on getting my feet right,” Barney said. “I was still nervous, but I was confident.”
Panguitch looked like it might sweep the Rebels, utilizing its blocks to keep the Rebels from getting any kind of offensive momentum.
In fact, its middle hitters — Abbey Blevins and Karlee Eyre — were so effective that when Blevins began to hyperventilate in the fourth set, there was momentary panic among all the Bobcats, including Norris.
“I don’t know (what was wrong),” Norris said laughing. “Maybe she was just excited. But we needed her in there. The middles were working, and we had to have her in there.”
Blevins said she’d never had any breathing issues in the past, and didn’t realize she’d yelled when the issue began in that fourth set.
“I thought I said it pretty quietly,” she said. “I didn’t know the ref came over or anything.” A few deep breaths, and the Bobcats continued their dominance at the net against a Rich team that has proved its resilience all season against much bigger teams.
Julia Hopkin led the Rebel offense with 19 kills of the team’s 37 kills.
The Rebels utilized their tough serve and scrappy defense to take the third set, but the Bobcats bounced back in the fourth.
“It was really scary because they started finding their rhythm,” Norris said of the third set. “We couldn’t stop the Hopkin girl. We tried everything. She reads the block really well and knows where to go. And she comes with authority. She’s got a lot of confidence.”
Rich coach Cindy Stuart said the Bobcats were just the better team this season. “They’ve just got a better block,” she said. “They’re a good team. They’re better than us. They had more attack. They just served better.”
Rich struggled, uncharacteristically, with serving.
“We had 10 missed serves,” Stuart said. “And that’s our first attack. It’s been a fun season because they’re all seniors. And we just battled a lot. I’ve had them since they were fifth-graders.”
Panguitch relied on contributions from all 11 players who took the court Saturday night. Blevins had nine kills, while Karlee Eyer added 13 kills. Taylia Norris finished with 12 kills.
“We’ve got 13 very talented girls that would start on any other team,” Norris said. “Why not use them? Why not let them be a part of a state championship?”
Blevins said it's not disruptive at all to utilize so many athletes each match.
“Everyone has earned their spot on the team, and if someone comes in for me, that just means I’m not doing my best,” she said. “Anything to help the team out, anything to win. We have an unbreakable bond between us." She and Barney said they’ve been waiting for a rematch with Rich since the Rebels swept them last season.
“They beat us last year, and that’s all we’ve been wanting all year was to go and get them,” Blevins said.
As a smile erased any residual frustration, Barney added, “It feels awesome. We’ve worked so dang hard, and we finally made it. This is our dream come true winning a championship. I love (playing a lot of players) because we have so many options. We’re all so confident in each other, and we’re great as a team.”