‘Why not us?’ How a toy unicorn embodied Dixie volleyball’s Cinderella run in 4A playoffs

"Ranch" the unicorn on display during a Dixie 4A volleyball playoff game, St. George, Utah, Oct. 26, 2019 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Region 9 teams fared well at the Class 4A volleyball state tournament, with three teams making the quarterfinal round — Cedar, Desert Hills and Dixie. While Desert Hills made it to the championship game against Green Canyon, the real story was the fifth place team out of Region 9, the Dixie Flyers. The one mainstay for the Flyers throughout their run was their team mascot, a toy unicorn named “Ranch” that they found under the bleachers.

Dixie had a tumultuous season, dealing with injuries and a brand new setter, but they had the talent to be a good team. The Flyers showed that talent during the region regular season, taking down region co-champion Snow Canyon and the third place Cedar Reds. Even so, Dixie ran into speed bumps and struggles throughout the season.

All of those struggles meant nothing come the state tournament. It was survive and advance, and that is exactly what Dixie did. They beat Pine View at home in the first round, then took down No. 2 Mountain Crest and No. 10 Cedar before losing to No. 6 Green Canyon in the semifinals.

“Overall, from the whole tournament, what I saw yesterday out of my kids is what I knew they had at the beginning of the year,” Flyers head coach Stacy Leavitt said. “You never know how your seasons are going to go, you think they’re going to go one way and then they go another. They played great volleyball, they upset some big teams, and they were good teams. They had that mindset to play the volleyball that we knew they could play and they knew they could play.”

The Flyers’ seniors also played great in the postseason. Halle Anderson, who Leavitt called a spitfire, anchored the Flyers on defense. She made big play after big play, and it seemed as if she could dig anything the other team sent her way. Savannah Cazier was the brawn of the Flyers. Her strength and ability to put speed on the balls she was hitting was crucial to getting kills. Aubrey Coffin was the brains, showcasing her ability to utilize the block and play balls off the other teams block. She always seemed to find a hole in the opposing team’s defense to put a ball away. Callie Tuckfield was the front-row leader, who’s blocking ability played a big role for the Flyers. Sophia Boone had an impact on the game with her serving, and Elle Anderson mixed up sets well, while feeding the hot hand.

Pine View at Dixie, 4A volleyball playoffs, St. George, Utah, Oct. 26, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

It was truly an all-around effort for the Flyers, but their senior class contributed in every way they could throughout the season and into the playoffs.

“What a great group of kids,” Leavitt said of her senior class. “I dearly love every one of them. They’ve worked hard, they’ve had good attitudes, they’re a lot of fun; not even that, they worked hard on the off-season and got so much better with court awareness. They each had their own little roles and they’re going to be hard to replace. People looked up to them, and hopefully people will see what they did and fill in those shoes a little bit.”

The Flyers came out with a purpose every game, and Leavitt attributed it to their slogan of sorts — “Why not us?”

“I guess we went in with this mindset of, why not us,” Leavitt said. “That was actually a cheer we would say every day. Everybody is talking about all these other schools, our region isn’t ranked very high, we had some bad games at the beginning of the season, we were in 13, 14, 15 the whole year. It was like we kind of just got put in the dark. We’re scrappy.”

Pine View at Dixie, 4A volleyball playoffs, St. George, Utah, Oct. 26, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

This run in the state tournament was a great feat for the Flyers athletically, but there were also life lessons learned at the tournament. A team that finished fifth in their region and was overlooked at times made it into the final four, and that is something their players will remember for the rest of their lives.

“It was fun,” Leavitt said. “I told the girls, just remember this. Twenty years I’ve been coming to this building. There are two things that this building does when you come to the state tournament. It’s going to build character and it’s going to build champions, and win or lose, you’re coming out a better person. That was that mindset. Our kids are fighters, and they’re going to learn from it and take it on to the next level of whatever they do.”

One mainstay on their bench was a toy unicorn. Every time the Flyers made a good play, the bench would hold up the unicorn, similar to the rally monkey in baseball. The story behind the unicorn is truly the embodiment of this team.

When the Flyers were looking for balls during practice, senior Savannah Cazier found the unicorn under the bleachers. Leavitt said Cazier loves unicorns and named it the team mascot. The team named the unicorn “Ranch,” and it traveled everywhere with the girls. The day after finding Ranch, the Flyers beat Cedar handily, 3-0. The players attributed the win to their new team mascot.

Pine View at Dixie, 4A volleyball playoffs, St. George, Utah, Oct. 26, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Leavitt said Ranch was more than a team mascot — the unicorn was the team’s theme.

“You were supposed to be ranked, you were supposed to be better than you were at the beginning of the year and you got put in the dark, like the Unicorn,” Leavitt said. “Now you’re out, and now you’re ready to fight. It just kind of ended up being our little mascot, and the kids actually thought it was good luck, so we just rolled with it.”

Dixie lost their semifinal game to the eventual champion, Green Canyon, and they lost in the third place game to Sky View. They finished the tournament in fourth, which is no small achievement for a team that was overlooked by many.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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