OREM – Somehow, somewhere along the way, a transformation took place for the Desert Hills volleyball team.
The result: a state championship.
“I’m exhausted. Excited, but exhausted,” said coach Jill Swaney, who has led the Thunder in all five years the school has been open. “It’s what you work for and plan for and prepare your team for.”
Desert Hills won Region 9, winning a similar come-from-behind victory at Snow Canyon back in mid-September. But the Thunder dropped a straight set defeat at home to the Lady Warriors just two weeks ago and many volleyball fans started to wonder if Snow Canyon wasn’t the team to beat at state, rather than the Thunder.
“I just reminded the team that this is what we prepared for all year,” Swaney said. “In fact, this is what these kids have prepared for their whole volleyball careers.”
Desert Hills turned the pressure up on the season and made an impressive run through state. The Thunder whipped through Payson, Juan Diego and Delta, losing just one game along the way. After the Juan Diego match, it started to appear that Region 9 would have both the Thunder and the Warriors in the championship.
“They have been so good for so long,” Swaney said of the Warriors. “If we do end up playing them in the championship, it will be an honor to be on the court with them.”
That’s the kind of respect the teams have around the state for Snow Canyon, which has played in either the 3A or 4A title game for seven straight years, winning five of those along the way.
The Warriors also cruised through the state tournament’s first three rounds. Snow Canyon thrashed Spanish Fork in straight sets in the first round and did the same to Judge Memorial in the quarterfinals.
That set up what was supposed to be an epic semifinal with another powerhouse, Morgan High. Instead, the Warriors dispatched the Lady Trojans with little trouble, sending them to the consolation bracket in straight sets.
That set up Saturday night’s final between a pair of southern Utah rivals.
DH came out hot and won the first game easily, 25-11. The Warriors used their size and smarts to capture the next two games and put themselves just one game from another championship.
But Desert Hills capitalized on some excellent serving to keep the Warriors off balance and took Game 4 25-19, setting up the fifth and deciding game.
Game 5’s in high school volleyball are to 15, with the usual rally scoring in place. But the Thunder served so well, they may not have needed rally scoring and certainly kept the normally sharp passing Warriors out of sync.
“Late in the match, we had a lot of tough serves,” Swaney said. “Alex Garrett is one of the best servers around and Lexi Fulton came in just to serve and didn’t miss a single one.”
The 15-12 fifth-game win set off a celebration for the Desert Hills team, which took its first volleyball title in the five-year school history.
“You know, we don’t have any stars,” Swaney said. “Everyone shares the credit and everyone shares the blame. With each win we just got more confident and became closer and stronger. But it seems like someone different stepped up almost every night.”
Snow Canyon will have to settle for second place for the second straight year. And southern Utah will have a new champion to shoot for with the Thunder now on top of the 3A volleyball world.
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