Union takes third straight 3A volleyball title with sweep of Morgan

Union and Morgan had met in the previous two state title games.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Union celebrates a point over Morgan in their 3A volleyball championship game at Utah Valley University on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021.

Orem • It’s not apparent from just watching the girls play, but the Union High School volleyball team has faced some difficult situations in recent years.

The Cougars had to play a few weeks — including the first game of the 2021 3A state tournament — without their senior setter, Kenisten Weaver.

Last year, senior outside hitter Kinslee Drake tore ligaments in her knee and shoulder.

Earlier this year, a girl on the team tore her ACL and then lost her mother some time later.

(Alex Vejar | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Union High School volleyball team celebrates winning its third straight 3A championship on Thursday, Oct.28, 2021, at the UCCU Center in Utah Valley University in Orem.

“There’s just been a lot of outside things that make it hard sometimes in the game,” Weaver said. “That’s when we come together and we say, ‘We can’t do it alone.’”

But the Cougars never wavered. The group of seniors have been playing together since before high school and grew close on and off the court. It’s that togetherness that has led to the team winning three consecutive 3A volleyball championships, the most recent of which came Thursday in straight sets (26-24, 25-17, 25-18) against Morgan at the UCCU Center at Utah Valley University.

Union and Morgan have now played in three straight title games against each other. In 2019, the match went to five sets. It went to four last year.

There was at least some desire among the Cougars to sweep Morgan this year. But more importantly, they wanted that winning feeling again.

“We just put every once of our soul into it,” Drake said. “That last point drops and then we just all fall together, that’s a feeling you never get anywhere else. And we wanted that again. So we did everything we could to get that feeling back.”

Union had to come back from a deficit in a first set that could’ve gone either way in order to earn the sweep. From there, though, the Cougars dominated the second and third sets en route to the title.

The late deficit wasn’t a problem for Union. It was down 24-18 in the first set against Emery during the semifinal round and was able to come back and win that one.

“We just changed our mindset and we were able to go forward,” senior libero Whitnee Birchell said of the first set against Morgan.

Union coach Analaine Mailoto said she had never been part of a championship game until her team’s first title run in 2019. Now, she’s a three-time championship coach.

“I think it’s awesome,” Mailoto said. “It’s just been cool to be a part of it three times in a row. It’s a cool experience.”

After that first title two years ago, the Cougars had the notion that before they graduated, they wanted to make their mark on not only the high school, but the community at large.

“Now we want to keep continuing that legacy and leave that behind for other people in our community and those around us that support us,” Drake said.

Drake and many of her teammates will graduate, but it’s safe to say they succeeded.