It is not unusual for talented athletes to work hard at improving their own skills. It is more rare for those standouts to try to bring out the best in those around them — regardless of their natural abilities.
This year's Deseret News Volleyball MVPs showed commitment to their own success by elevating the play and enhancing the experience of those around them. They play different positions and have different innate strengths, but they share a common belief that by helping others succeed, they will enjoy the best sports have to offer also.
6A MVP, Kennedi Boyd, Lone Peak, Sr., MB
Kennedi Boyd is about as kind and gentle as they come — unless she’s on a volleyball court.
“She’s probably one of the sweetest people that’s ever come on the planet Earth,” said Lone Peak head coach Reed Carlson. “She’s just so kind and so nice and so aware and mindful of everyone around her. But at the same time, she’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met. It’s the weirdest combination.”
The senior middle blocker helped the Knights to their third straight title with an impressive defensive performance. She finished the season with 250 kills, a .465 hitting percentage and 139 blocks — 100 of those solo blocks. Boyd did that in 91 sets, as the Knights swept most teams they played, including the championship match.
Carlson said Boyd has made herself a competitor, both with her mental toughness and her commitment to hard work.
“She sets goals for herself, and she’s going to work and work and work until she gets it accomplished,” Carlson said. “I don’t think she understand the concept of taking it easy. She’s so nice, but if you get her in a competitive situation, like a drill or a game, and all of a sudden, there is this other side of Kennedi. It’s amazing.”
Boyd has signed with Arizona State, and Carlson said that a lot of people see the player she is and don’t realize just how much effort has gone into her game.
“She’s a great student, great friend and just a work horse,” Carlson said. “It’s really impressive.”
5A MVP, Kate Standifird, Skyridge, Sr., S
Standifird is such a naturally gifted athlete that when the Skyridge track team needed a few more female athletes her sophomore season, she became a javelin thrower and barely missed qualifying for state in her first meet.
“That’s the kind of athlete she is,” said Skyridge head coach Deanna Meyer laughing. “She is an all-around athlete. She’s moves well, jumps well, she’s the whole package.”
Standifird is a self-motivated, determined young woman. When she decided to attend Lehi’s new high school — Skyridge — she set a goal to help it earn the school’s first state title in volleyball. It came close last season, but behind her talent and leadership, the school earned that title this season.
She finished the year with 766 assists, averaging 9.5 assists per set as the Falcons dominated most of the teams they played. She also earned 61 aces and 291 digs.
“She is a kid who wanted to win a title, who wanted to be part of the first state championship,” Meyer said. “She’s so humble, but she’s such a competitor.”
In fact, Meyer laughs as she talks about how there isn’t anything inconsequential to Standifird when it comes to the sport she loves.
“We can be warming up, and she’s playing for the state title,” Meyer said. “I love that she’s just fierce. In every drill, you’d think she was playing for the state title. She just doesn’t understand when people don’t work hard.” While Standifird, who heads to Weber State to play college volleyball, has always been talented, she learned to really lead her teammates this season.
“She had to really learn to communicate over the years, and that’s what she did really well this year,” Meyer said. “She knew how to calm those kids down on the court.”
4A MVP Kristen Schumann, Sky View, Sr., OPP
Kristen Schumann had such versatile strengths that Sky View head coach Sheila Sorensen came up with plays that would allow the Bobcats to take advantage of her abilities.
“She was so coachable and so willing to do anything, she was willing to learn different hits, different plays just for Kristen,” Sorensen said.
Schumann led the team with 358 kills and a .280 hitting percentage. She also put up 67 blocks in 87 sets and earned 235 digs.
“She’s left handed, and her vertical is crazy,” Sorensen said. “She can jump out of the gym. She is always looking to improve, and always asking what she can do to get better.”
Schumann had two traits that significantly helped her team to the 4A state title — an innate confidence and an ability to lead.
“She was very confident, even when things weren’t going perfectly,” Sorensen said. “She’d just move on to the next play. She was definitely a great leader just in the way she is. She’s very positive, and she just gets the girls motivated and pumped up. She was never in your face, but just encouraging.”
Schumann is a 4.0 student who earned Academic All-State this year. She’s also a Sterling Scholar in English and a member of the school’s varsity basketball team.
“She is so down to earth, so hard working and such a sweetheart,” Sorensen said. “She could do just about anything — hit the whole net, block for us, and she played all the way around. And she loved her teammates.”
3A Emery Wheeler, Morgan, Jr., OH
If Emery Wheeler’s jumping ability were any better, she’d be able to fly.
“Her strength is her vertical,” said Morgan head volleyball coach Liz Wiscombe. “She’s always had it. It’s just natural. She’ll jump, and you’ll think she’s at the top of her jump, and she goes even higher. And she makes it look so easy.”
Wheeler’s play at the net was key in Morgan’s championship run. She finished the season with 397 kills in 83 sets. She earned a .305 hitting percentage and picked up 230 digs.
If Wheeler’s ability to jump is impressive to fans, her swing is intimidating to opponents. “She gets such great torque when she swings, great motion, and it’s intimidating,” Wiscombe said.
While her play puts her in the spotlight, her personality prefers the background.
“She’s the kid who doesn’t want the attention,” Wiscombe said. “Just as long as we win the volleyball game, she’s good. She’s a very competitive kid.”
Wheeler works just as hard off the court, maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
The only person Wheeler is hard on is herself.
“She’s kind of a perfectionist,” the coach said. “But she’s a competitor, and she just takes care of business.
“The best thing about her is that she is only a junior,” Wiscombe said. “I love coaching Emery. She’s a great volleyball player, but she’s an even better person.”
2A MVP, Ronnie Robinson, Enterprise, Sr., OH
Ronnie Robinson was already a gifted athlete when she decided to improve her skills in her senior season.
“I thought Ronnie improved just a ton this year,” said Enterprise head coach Brian Phelps. “Probably as much on the mental side as the physical. … Her confidence grew throughout the year.”
Robinson’s ability to hit a ball wherever it was set made her an invaluable leader to the Wolves' offense.
“Her ability to adjust to the ball was her strength,” Phelps said. “She could just get to it and adjust to the ball very well.”
The senior outside hitter finished with 447 kills and a .393 hitting percentage. She earned 70 solo blocks in 90 sets, as she helped the team to a second-place finish.
Phelps said Robinson’s mental toughness made her a leader for the team, as she learned not to get discouraged when an opponent’s defense made her job more difficult.
“Last year I felt like if she got blocked two or three times in a row, she’d get down,” Phelps said. “This year, it was like, ‘OK, I’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t a big downer to have someone block her.”
Robinson is an honor student who is a standout on both the volleyball and basketball teams. She hasn’t decided which sport she’d like to play in college.
Her improved confidence made her a more natural leader for the Wolves, even if her style is more reserved.
“She’s maybe more of one who calms the players down,” Phelps said. “She grew a lot this year.”
1A MVP, Taylia Norris, Panguitch, Jr., OH/OPP
Taylia Norris could do half as much and still be more accomplished than most girls her age.
But then, she wouldn’t be Taylia.
“I don’t think you’d find hardly anyone more dedicated,” said her father and volleyball coach Troy Norris. “She’s a fierce competitor, and she really steps it up when she needs to.”
Norris has a passion for two sports — running and volleyball. Because cross-country and volleyball compete in the fall in high school, Norris had to try to find time for both.
“It’s very hard,” said her dad of competing in two sports in the same season. “She gets up and goes running every morning before school. Most days, she was out running by 6 a.m. Then she’d go to school, and play volleyball after school. There were quite a few girls who ran cross-country, so we tried to help them get in shape during volleyball season.”
Norris earned the 1A individual title, while helping the Bobcats to the girls team title. Two weeks later, she helped the volleyball team to the 1A state title.2 comments on this story
The outside/opposite hitter led the team’s offense with 274 kills and earned a .286 hitting percentage.
“She’s a phenomenal teammate, really good with the younger girls,” Norris said. “The thing that amazes me with her is I never hear her talk bad about any of the other girls, always very positive.”
Norris said his youngest daughter has grown up learning to compete as the youngest of five very athletic children.
“She’s just very dedicated in everything she does,” he said, noting she is a 4.0 student. “She’s a dream daughter to be honest.”