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Ridgeline wins first 4A volleyball title for teammate diagnosed with leukemia

Riverhawks freshman Adeline Swanton was diagnosed in September.

(Alex Vejar | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ridgeline junior setter Nia Damuni, center, holds the 4A volleyball trophy as she celebrates winning the school's first 4A championship on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, at the UCCU Center in Utah Valley University.

Orem • A stuffed swan made its way to the center of the Ridgeline High School volleyball team’s celebration photo.

The Riverhawks were minutes removed from sweeping Desert Hills (25-12, 26-24, 25-18) in the 4A championship game, a match that saw them overcome a deficit in the third set to win the school’s first-ever title in volleyball.

But the game wasn’t really on anyone’s minds. What filled eyes with tears more than anything else was who the stuffed swan represented — Riverhawks freshman Adeline Swanton, who in September was diagnosed with leukemia.

Coach Jaicee Roden bought the swan shortly after Swanton was diagnosed. The toy followed the team around for the remainder of the season, a constant reminder of who the team was now playing for.

As the Riverhawks embraced each other and celebrated with family and friends, Swanton was making the rounds via video call. Roden screamed in jubilation when she saw Swanton’s face on the phone while she talked with media. Junior Mira Smullin had a short conversation with her as well.

“She’s so proud of us,” Smullin said, adding that the team’s message to her was “we always support her even though the season’s over.”

The team felt devastated when it became aware of Swanton’s diagnosis, Smullin said.

“All of a sudden, our focus really started to shift,” Roden said. “We had a bigger purpose to play and to fight and to do something for her. And that was really, really exciting. Really rewarding.”

Swanton’s prognosis is good, and Roden said the freshman is responding well to chemotherapy. Swanton is currently hospitalized at Primary Children’s Hospital.

Roden said the team started to see that “life is bigger than a game” after Swanton’s diagnosis and rallied around that idea for the rest of the season.

Ridgeline players wore T-shirts honoring Swanton that read “Swan Of Us.” Junior setter Nia Damuni, with tears in her eyes, said the school’s state title was won for Swanton.

“That was our purpose to play this season,” Damuni said.

(Alex Vejar | The Salt Lake Tribune) (Alex Vejar | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Ridgeline High School volleyball team celebrates winning the school's first 4A championship on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, at the UCCU Center in Utah Valley University.

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