Our theme this year is ‘Rise’. The girls came up with it. We’ve been meeting with a sports psychologist, and that’s been our goal. We like to say, we either win or we learn. —Woods Cross head coach Nicole Hogan
OREM — Of all the reasons people play sports, serving others probably isn’t high on the list.
But in the endless promise of August, that’s exactly how Woods Cross coaches Nicole Hogan and Holly Rasmussen asked their players to view this volleyball season.
“When we started out, we had the kids put themselves at the bottom of their own totem pole,” Hogan said after fourth-ranked Woods Cross defeated fifth-ranked Skyline in the 5A quarterfinals 25-18, 25-8, 19-25, 26-24. “We said your job is to serve your team. That’s the only way you’re going to do it, is if you serve each other on the court.”
The ‘it’ to which coaches were referring was competing for a state title. And while the coaches have plenty of examples of how their players have put their teammates ahead of themselves, nothing epitomized the idea more than what senior setter Paige McKenna did before the Wildcats scored set and match points against a talented and tenacious Skyline squad.
“I watched her go around to every single girl on the court that last point and give them five and smile in their face,” said head coach Nicole Hogan. “It’s so fun (to see them caring about one and other). These six seniors, they’re all so different, and they’re all going different directions. It’s really been amazing to see them come together for one purpose. They really do believe, and they want it bad.”
The Wildcats owned all of the momentum against the Eagles in the first two sets. But Skyline bounced back in the third set, earning the win with aggressive play at the net.
“Kudos to Skyline,” Hogan said. “They came out banging balls after those first two rough sets.” Woods Cross was led by senior middle hitter Whitney Mcewan, who hit .453 and earned 30 kills, senior outside hitter Ryean Rasmussen, who hit a .318 and earned 9 kills, and senior middle/opposite Lauren Olsen, who finished with 8 kills. The defense was anchored by senior libero Cassie Howard, who passed 2.29 in the match, and junior Olivia Massey, who passed an impressive 2.67. Rasmussen passed a 2.16, and the entire team enjoyed their best passing match of the season.
Coaches Hogan and Rasmussen admitted it isn’t easy to instill confidence in players when they have to battle two-time state champion Bountiful during region play.
“You take a beating,” Hogan said. “It’s tough. But the first time we played, one set was 34-36. One rally was one minute long. It was insane. It wasn’t just side-out, side-out, side-out. It was great volleyball.”
Coming into this weekend’s tournament a No. 3 seed did not deter the Wildcats confidence.
“Our theme this year is ‘Rise’,” Hogan said. “The girls came up with it. We’ve been meeting with a sports psychologist, and that’s been our goal. We like to say, we either win or we learn.”
And sometimes, she added, they do both. Even though they swept Alta in their first-round game, Hogan said there was much to learn as they dealt with a bit of a complacency lull in the second set.
Against Skyline, she started the fourth set with a request.
“Before that fourth set, we talked a lot about body language,” she said. “I didn’t want to be able to read it. We knew it was going to be a battle – it’s state. Every single point is a state championship point. If they side out, I don’t want to know by your body language. You’ve got to get a smile on your face and play together, and they did. I’m super proud.”
While Thursday’s 6A tournament was dominated by Region 4, Friday’s 5A tournament turned out to be where Region 5 shined. Three of the four semifinalists are from Region 5: Bountiful, Box Elder and Woods Cross.
Only Corner Canyon was from a different region (7), and the second-ranked Chargers will play top-ranked Bountiful in the 10:30 semifinal, while fourth-ranked Woods Cross will play region rival and No. 2 seed Box Elder in the 12:30 p.m. match.
Bountiful swept Cottonwood (25-12, 25-11, 25-19) and Springville (25-14, 25-17, 25-14), while Corner Canyon swept West (25-23, 25-23, 25-22) and then beat Wasatch in four sets (21-25, 27-25, 25-18, 25-9).
Box Elder swept Timpview (25-9, 25-17, 25-14) and then beat Skyridge (25-12, 21-25, 25-14, 25-11).
The championship match is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Saturday at UVU’s UCCU Center.