Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Pleasant Grove beat rival Lone Peak 18-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-21 in prep volleyball action in Pleasant Grove on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.
Because we’re the favorite going in, we expect every team to give us their best match. We’re ready for an extremely challenging run. —Lone Peak head coach Reed Carlson

Rather than feeling pressure as they enter the 6A state volleyball tournament as the favorites, the Lone Peak Knights are looking forward to the challenges this year’s field promises to offer.

“Last year, we definitely were able to give ourselves the underdog mentality,” said head coach Reed Carlson. “Pleasant Grove has been the gold standard of volleyball for a long time, so we went in thinking we’d had a good season, but we still didn’t have any state tournament experience together.”

That strategy served them well as they defeated the Vikings in a thrilling five-set state championship match. This year, however, the Knights, who’ve beaten the Vikings twice and lost to them once, will have a different strategy.

“This year, we’re just putting ourselves in the situation that we’ll earn what we earn,” he said. “If we want a championship, we’ll have to earn it. Because we’re the favorite going in, we expect every team to give us their best match. We’re ready for an extremely challenging run.”

Luckily for him, his players relish a tough challenge.

“That’s the cool things about the girls in my gym,” he said. “They’re looking forward to those challenges.”

The Knights don’t know who their opponent will be when the state tournament begins Thursday at Utah Valley University’s UCCU Center. They play the fourth seed from Region 2.

The team has four collegiate players, starting with outside hitter Madi Robinson and returning setter Jaque Langhaim, who is committed to playing at Tennessee-Chattanooga. Middle hitter Autumn Spafford, who committed to West Point, and Kennedi Boyd, who has committed to Arizona State, will also help the team with talent and experience.

The second-ranked Vikings are led by Kazna Tarawhiti and Heather Gneiting, as well as setter Baylie Bishop.

The Knights earned the Region 4 top seed, which means second-ranked Pleasant Grove, third-ranked Syracuse and fourth-ranked Bingham will all be in the same bracket.

Top-ranked Lone Peak and fifth-ranked American Fork are in the bottom bracket. The Cavemen face top-seeded Granger in the first round of the 6A tournament.

Syracuse won the Region 1 title without a loss, as did Granger (Region 2) and Copper Hills (Region 3). The Grizzlies will play Region 1’s fourth seeded team.

Bingham head coach Melissa Glasker sees the tournament as a battle between Region 4 teams with the possibility that Region 1’s Syracuse and Region 3’s Copper Hills could challenge.

“I think it will be Region 4 dominated,” she said. “If we all get our jobs done.”

She said the favorite has to be Lone Peak with Pleasant Grove offering a significant challenge to anyone else.

“We went five with PG and played them extremely well,” she said. “Lone Peak is tougher. They’ve just got more weapons.” She said any team that beats either the Knights or Vikings will have to be playing great volleyball.

Bingham is led by senior libero Kendzee Cloward, who anchors the defense. Junior setter Brynlie Huntsman returned to practice after sitting out three weeks with concussion symptoms. Her return will allow the Miners to use senior setter Seleisa Elisaia as a hitter at least part time.

“She’s our best hitter,” Glasker said. “The last three weeks we’ve had to win only using her as a setter.”

Syracuse is led by outside Breanna Jessop, while Copper Hills is led by freshman outside Asiah Sopoaga. American Fork is led by senior Elena Hansen. Granger is led by junior Julia Taula.

The 6A championship match is scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m.