Brighton senior outside hitter Mandy Taft hopes to begin a career in her dream field of elementary education in a little more than four years.
Her young students likely will benefit from the disciplined way she teaches, and some might catch a glimpse of her athletic prowess on the playground. But it's unlikely they'll imagine that Miss Taft was a terror on the volleyball court.
"Before the season, I told her to stop thinking so much about blocks and placement and just crush it when you have the chance," Brighton coach Adam Fernandez said.
The Bengals dropped the first two games of their region opener against Alta. Taft lifted her teammates, elevated her intensity and helped the Bengals storm back to win the last three sets 25-23, 26-24, 17-15.
"Volleyball is such a big game of momentum, and as a captain, I'm aware of when we need a lift," Taft said. "Sometimes I'll tell Lyndie Mitchell to set one my way, and I'll swing as hard as I can to win the point and change momentum."
Taft received a late introduction to volleyball when a friend she played softball with suggested she try out at age 13.
Her team claimed a region title in Utah that season, but she had her eyes opened when that team traveled to the Junior Olympics in Florida.
"It was amazing to see how good these girls were and feel the intensity," she said.
Taft was tired of going to the bench when she rotated to the back row, so she went to work with her club coach, Westminster coach Kim Norman.
"She helped me every day after practice," Taft said. "We'd serve 100 balls and then pass 100, just working on the fundamentals."
The Bengals, who featured just two seniors on the opening-day roster, struggled through a rugged preseason that included Davis, Lone Peak, Lehi and Bingham.
"It's all about getting better," Fernandez said.
The Bengals won their first match with Alta, then exacted revenge against West Jordan, a team that beat them early in the region season.
Taft hopes that improvement carries over into postseason play.
"Sometimes teams peak too early, and I think we've kept on improving and have a chance to surprise some people," she said.
Brighton outside hitter Mandy Taft started playing volleyball at 13.
Brighton has a large junior class this season that excels on the court and in the classroom. Setter Lindey Mitchell is one of three players who boast a 4.0 grade-point average.