Orem • Six months ago, Piute setter Whitney Allen wasn't sure she'd play volleyball again.
The senior underwent brain surgery in April for a structural defect in the cerebellum called Chiari Malformation.
"My brain was slipping down onto my spinal cord, so my spinal fluid wasn't circulating," Allen said. "I needed to have surgery or I was going to go paralyzed. I thought I better do it."
She has recovered fully, feeling better than ever, and she helped guide the Thunderbirds into the Class 1A state semifinals Wednesday.
Allen set up big hits by teammates Whitney Westwood and Shaylee Gleave as Piute bounced defending champion Monticello 25-18, 25-17, 19-25, 25-22 in the state quarterfinals.
"She's leading the team," Piute coach Shauna Bagley said about Allen. "I don't know what we'd do without her."
Allen joked that she returned to full strength "Probably right now, at his exact moment," after the Thunderbirds avenged a semifinal loss from a year ago.
It was by far the best match on an opening day that saw 9 of 12 matches end in three sets.
The Thunderbirds let momentum slip away in the third set, but they pulled away late in a back-and-forth final set. One of Westwood's 22 kills put the Thunderbirds up 20-18, and a block by Kierra Gleave made it 23-19.
Gleave finished with 12 kills, and Shalyn Bagley had a team-high six blocks.
"We just have that come-back, finish-strong power," Allen said. "I've played with these girls a long time, and I know what we're capable of, so I never worried."
Now comes a matchup with Rich. Coach Bagley said she didn't get much of a chance to watch Rich's quarterfinal victory against Milford, but she knows the Thunderbirds will have their hands full Thursday.
"What I know about Rich is anything that Cindy Stuart has to do with is excellent," Bagley said. "They will come hard at us. We will have to play another A-plus game to get by them."
St. Joseph cruised past Monument Valley 25-7, 25-5, 25-14, and Panguitch advanced 25-6, 25-16, 25-8 against Duchesne in Wednesday's other quarterfinals.
Class 1A tournament
Today at Utah Valley University
Semifinals, 11 a.m.
Rich vs. Piute
St. Joseph vs. Panguitch