As far as conundrums go, Allyce Jones’ problem is one to be envied.
Only 26 years old, Jones is on the fast track to a volleyball coaching career that may include stints at the college level. But, on the other hand, her early success comes where she grew up — and where the temptation to stay would naturally be extremely high.
The biggest classification may end up being the most hotly contested, as Pleasant Grove strives for three state titles in a row.
Teams to beat » 2013 state runner-up Bingham is first in line to potentially dethrone the Vikings, as the Miners’ lineup includes two University of Utah recruits. Two teams that went out fairly early in last year’s state tournament, Lehi and Lone Peak, also have the potential to challenge. Lehi fell in the quarterfinals, but the young Pioneers stretched Bingham to five games and now have another year under their collective belt. Lone Peak was ousted by Fremont in five-game opening round upset, but 5A coaches remain wary of the Knights.
Sleepers » Northridge, an opening round loser to Lehi a year ago, is a squad that may surprise. The Smalls twins will come up big if that happens. Junior setter Kira Smalls and sister Keana, at outside hitter, are players to watch for the Knights. Also, keep an eye on Layton and Taylorsville as the year progresses.
Players to watch » Torre Glasker, Bingham’s junior powerful outside hitter, has already committed to Utah and her Miner teammate, 6-foot-2 Megan Boudreaux, is bound for the same school and will also cause problems from the middle. Lone Peak’s 6-4 Emily Lewis is also a huge threat at middle blocker while junior Bailey Nixon will pace Pleasant Grove’s drive for a third straight crown. Tasia Taylor at Taylorsville and Rylin Roberts at Lehi are key hitters for their teams while Brighton’s Dani Barton is a huge threat from the outside.
Defending champ Timpview, with four key starters back, has a clear lead over its potential challengers as the season starts.
Teams to beat » The Thunderbirds cruised through the 4A draw last year, winning four straight matches, all by 3-0 sweeps. Though Timpview graduated standouts Lauryn Dela Cruz and Jessie Jorgenson, the T-birds bring back the BYU-bound Haddock twins as well as starters Annie Hofheins and Maliyah Tela. “They’re not necessarily thinking in terms of repeating,” said Timpview coach Kristen Bailey. “They’re just hungry to compete and be the best 2014 team they can be.” After making the state finals, Sky View could make another run, while Springville and Salem Hills could also make noise
Sleepers » Bountiful and Clearfield were competitive in their exit matches at last year’s state tournament, and there’s reason to believe the Braves and Falcons could do themselves one better this time around. Bountiful only had two seniors on the 2013 squad while Clearfield had three.
Players to watch » Lyndie and Lacy Haddock won’t get a chance to play at BYU with their older sister, as Tambre Nobles is a senior in college this season, but the twins are Division I volleyball recruits and that makes them a handful for 4A opponents this season. Lyndie is a setter for Timpview while Lacy displays her skills at outside hitter. Among others, Springville senior middle Emma Isrealsen will be an important cog for her team, and Skyline senior setter Helena Wolff keeps Eagles’ opponents guessing.
Three of last year’s final four were from the same region, and this year might be another Southern Battle Royale, but watch out for Morgan to be in the mix.
Teams to beat » Hurricane won the 3A state championship last year, but region foes Snow Canyon and Desert Hills might bring more back for this season. Still, the Tigers beat both teams — in the semifinals and finals respectively - and has some good returnees themselves. All of the southern squads are keeping a wary eye on Morgan, which fell to Desert Hills in last year’s semis. “[Morgan coach] Liz Wiscombe’s a legend,” Hurricane coach Daniel McKeehan said. “They’re gonna be strong. They look like we looked last year.”
Sleepers » North Sanpete might fit in better as a contender than dark horse, as the Hawks fought tooth-and-nail (29-27, 25-22 in games 3 and 4) in a 3-1 playoff loss to Snow Canyon last year. And coach Rickie Stewart’s troops return with only four graduation losses. Tooele and Park City, respectively, fell in sweeps to the eventual finalists, Hurricane and Desert Hills, but the Buffaloes and Miners might be poised to make another step up.
Players to watch » All-State Hurricane setter Addie Edwards not only orchestrated the Tigers’ offense but also scorched foes for a total of 101 aces from behind the serving line. She’s back along with returning starter Hannah Rich and Rachel Nielsen — a 6-1 outside hitter who hurt her ankle warming up in 2013 quarterfinal round. Two more tall returnees for Desert Hills are outside hitters Courtney Sheeran (5-11) and Alex Garret (6-1), while the shorter, but very athletic Alexsa Parker is a big part of Snow Canyon’s offensive picture.
Three seasoned playoff teams return huge portions of last year’s squads, but Enterprise remains the favorite.
Teams to beat » Enterprise won every match in its 2013 title run by a 3-0 sweep, and the Wolves only lost a pair of players to graduation. “We’ve got quite a bit of depth,” Enterprise coach Brian Phelps said. San Juan, which provided the opposition in the finals, also only graduated two seniors. The Broncos, according to their coach, are hoping to show they were better than being on the receiving end of another Enterprise sweep. “My kids, when they match was over, told me, ‘They say it’s like any other match, but it’s really not,’” Cassy Moon recalled. Delta was also a 3-0 victim (to San Juan in the semifinals) and comes back with all but one of its regulars from a year ago.
Sleepers » Coaches in 2A are casting a wary eye at South Summit and Waterford, among others. South Summit advanced to last year’s semis while Waterford was upended in the first round. “Waterford’s coach [Steve Manning] is really, really good,” Phelps said. “South Summit is up-and-coming.”
Players to watch » Riley Lyman is a big presence in the middle for Enterprise, and the senior comes off a season in which the 6-footer registered a state-record 197 blocks. At San Juan, senior Tatiana Su’e Su’e is known as a softball ace pitcher, but she also can whale away as an outside hitter. Though a year younger, Sydney Springer at Delta has a similar role for the Rabbits — break down defensive sets with power from the outside.
Piute, Panguitch and Rich, among others, are anxious to step in and challenge since defending state champ St. Joseph is in rebuilding mode.
Teams to beat » Piute came within one game of a state title, Panguitch within two. And now the foil for both squads certainly seems vulnerable as 2013 state champ St. Joseph has lost nearly its entire roster to graduation. Another final four participant, Rich, also will look to return to the doorsteps of a championship. Certainly, it was a good time for St. Joseph and coach Ray Franklin a year ago, as it was the first title in his 17 years at the Ogden school. “We’re going to get ourselves rebuilt and try to get competitive,” Franklin said. “I think we’ll make it to state, and then who knows what will happen.”
Sleepers » Monticello is a team to watch, as the Buckaroos look to improve an appearance in the quarterfinals last year. Likewise, Manila and Altamont may spring a surprise or two although playoff experience for both teams was limited as the Mustangs were ousted in the first round and the Longhorns fell short of the postseason.
Players to watch » St. Joseph may only have one returnee, but its a good one in senior Mady White. A libero last year, this Hawk will try to make the switch to outside hitter despite her 5-4 stature. In Panguitch, the hitting seems solid, as 6-foot senior Darri Frandsen returns to the middle and junior teammates Chesney Campbell and Taylor Bennett (both 5-11) will comprise a tall front line for the Bobcats. Meanwhile, at Piute, senior outside hitter Shaylee Gleave will be a focal point for the Thunderbirds’ attack.
Right now, it’s Pleasant Grove High School that continues its tradition of winning and will keep its young head coach for an undetermined length of time.
"That’s always been on my mind, but it’s something I want to think about later. I want to be able to go to my kids’ games and activities," Jones said. "If it turns out anything like my family, that’ll be game after game after game."
For now, the focus at "The Grove" is winning a state volleyball championship. Pleasant Grove has won two Class 5A championships in a row, with the 2013 first-place trophy earned through a four-game victory over Bingham in the finale.
That’s six state crowns in school history, but recent years have been even more impressive as the Vikes have picked up volleyball titles five times since 2001.
It’s something the current crop of PG volleyball players are determined to continue.
"It is a big deal, because we’re representing Pleasant Grove and their name. It just makes us work harder," said Vikings junior Bailey Nixon. "This team is different from last year because we’ve got a huge target. We had one last year too, but this year it’s even more."
Nixon, a junior outside hitter, is a key figure in Pleasant Grove’s offensive attack this season, as standout Rachel Gale and setter Brisa Winterton graduated. This year, junior setter Jeniel Biggs will take a bigger role, and she’ll have Nixon, senior middle Alexis Sharp and senior outside Brooklyn Bodily as options.
"I think there’s a lot of talent, and if we put the hard work in, we’re able to use the experience," senior outside hitter Whitney Anderson said of the benefit of PG’s recent success.
As for Jones, she was also part of Pleasant Grove’s list of championships back when she was a player. A setter for the Vikes, then known as Allyce Wilson, Jones experienced some near-misses — second-place finishes her sophomore and junior seasons — before grabbing gold in her senior season of 2005.
She played collegiately at Utah Valley University, switching to the libero position, and then maybe even surprised herself by getting a head coaching job immediately after graduation. That was at American Fork, where Jones stayed for one year, before succeeding her old coach Mike Daniel at Pleasant Grove in 2010.
Despite her youth, things seem to be coming full-circle in a way for Jones, as Daniel’s daughter is now in the Pleasant Grove program. But Jones isn’t quite the "old ball-coach" as she’s fairly close in age to the current PG seniors — the first class to have Jones as their coach the whole way through high school.
"It’s awesome because I can show them my goofy side. They respect me completely, though," Jones said. "We have a good coach-player relationship, but we also have fun."
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