The girls on the Copper Hills volleyball team walk off the court and head to their backpacks that sit on the bleachers on the other side of the gym. As each bag zip-zip-zips open, they take out notebooks — all different colors — and pens.
They all walk back to the corner of the gym and sit in a semicircle around assistant coach Haley Felise, who has a book in her hand called “The Fearless Mind.” As Felise reads a chapter, her players scribble in their notebooks about how what they hear applies to volleyball or even any other goings-on in their lives.
It’s a practice that, for the last two seasons, has helped the Grizzlies become closer as a group. And that closeness has directly contributed to the 26-2 record and No. 1 RPI ranking Copper Hills will take into the 6A state tournament that starts Thursday against Westlake.
“That time has become such a precious time for us because it’s allowed the girls to open up and be vulnerable to their teammates, to us,” coach Silver Fonua says. “And so, for me, what I see is that the girls have found that they can trust each other because they’re sharing things that they probably wouldn’t otherwise share with anyone else.”
Senior libero Emily Wight uses the time to not only write themes of a particular chapter, but also jots down how her day went and her goals for that day. She says the discussions reset her mind and the team benefits from the communication, which can sometimes become in depth.
The varsity girls periodically end practice early to study in the cafeteria or share a meal at a nearby shopping center. They also like seeing movies together, the most recent being “It: Chapter 2.” Lately, the Grizzlies have scouted other volleyball teams as a group.
Copper Hills feels the relationships between its players has been the key to the program’s rising success in recent years. Just a couple seasons ago, the Grizzlies had never won a region title. Now they’re in position to win the first state championship in school history.
Junior libero Sydnee Steel, who joined Copper Hills as a transfer from Herriman High, says despite their record and ranking — and even some early season expectations — the team has shifted focus to only the next game, rather than winning the state tournament.
“When everyone’s telling you that you have to be good, it feels more like a job than what you want to do,” Steel says. “So we had to get past that as a team. Now I think we’re stronger than ever. We’re very focused. We have the little blinders on so we can only see what is right in front of us.”
Junior outside hitter Asiah Sopoaga, who Fonua strongly believes will be the MVP of their region, feels confident about Copper Hills’ chances in the tournament and says making school history is a definite motivation.
“No one knew about Copper Hills or they wouldn’t worry about Copper Hills,” Sopoaga says. “But now, we have targets on our backs. People want to be able to beat us.”
The Grizzlies aren’t the only girls volleyball program primed to win its first-ever state championship. Farmington High, which is only in its second year of existence, is ranked No. 1 in 5A and finished the season 25-1 and undefeated in its region.
But coach April Painter couldn’t care less about the team’s ranking. When the final RPI numbers came out, she printed a sheet of paper that read, “Farmington No. 1 seed” and held it up as she talked about the team’s accomplishments while her players cheered. Then, she ripped it to shreds and threw it away.
“It does not matter. It’s on paper,” Painter says of her team’s ranking. “We’re going to go in and every team we play is the No. 1 seed and we’ve got to knock them off. We have to battle for our survival, which every team does.”
That’s the message coming out of Farmington, which was a team last year with players forced to play down a level due to the Utah High School Activities Association’s transfer rules. One such player was now-senior middle blocker Kait White, who used to attend Bountiful High.
Despite the team’s youth, the Phoenix made the state tournament in their first year and won two matches. White says that first season was focused on building team chemistry, and that has continued into this season.
Farmington also starts its state tournament run Thursday against Murray. Senior libero Rylee Brown, who used to attend Westlake High, says it’s always been her goal to win a state title. In order to do so, she says, Farmington can’t take any team lightly.
“We have to see them as a threat because they’re in the way of what our goal is," Brown says.