On paper, it would seem the reign of Sky View in volleyball may be facing a bump in the road this fall.
However, none of the current Bobcats are buying that. Nor is the competition.
Despite losing four starters, including the 4A MVP in Kristen Schumann, all-state first-team setter Ashlee McUne and all-state second-team libero Keiko Schwartz, many believe Sky View will be right up there battling for another region title and in the hunt when the state tournament rolls around in late October.
Being the defending state champions certainly does wonders for confidence. So does tradition.
“They always come in every year saying they want a championship,” SV head coach Sheila Sorensen said of her Bobcats. “They really buy into it and know how hard they have to work in the gym. It doesn’t come easy. Our practices are hard. ... It’s the culture. I didn’t start this culture. I’m just trying to keep it rolling. You stop, you go backwards.”
Since 2012, the Bobcats have played in the state championship match five times, winning twice. And in region play? Sky View has dominated.
Over the past two seasons the Bobcats have gone 20-0 in region play. Throw out two years when Sky View was among the 5A ranks — going 17-7 and tying for one region title in 2016 — the team in light blue has gone 54-0 in region action as a 4A school, dating back to 2012. In 10 of the last 11 years, the Bobcats have won or shared the league crown.
So, it’s not hard to see why the team in Smithfield is confident and those around the region understand the championship must be wrestled away from the Bobcats.
There will be challengers for sure this fall. Mountain Crest has been young, but that youth is now mostly seniors. Ridgeline and Green Canyon have competed pretty well with Sky View recently and done well at state. Logan has a new coach with plenty of optimism.
“I can confidently say I think we have one of the toughest regions in 4A this year,” Green Canyon head coach Madison Larsen said. “Every team in our region is a talented and competitive team. With that said, I am very confident in my girls and would put them at the top of our region.”
Why so confident? Well, Larsen comes from that Sky View tradition. She was an assistant last year with the Bobcats and was a major part of the 2012 Sky View state championship team — that was when she was Maddie Day.
In fact, Larsen was the first of seven straight Bobcats to be named the All-Valley Player of the Year. She took over the GC program when long-time coach Malayna Knowles stepped away from coaching after last season, in which she guided Green Canyon to a 17-14 record and a share of second place in the region.
“This will be a tough region,” Sorensen said. “... I think 4A is going to be exciting and our region will be exciting. It’s going to be neck and neck. Mountain Crest is all seniors and has a great team. Ridgeline and Green Canyon have some great players. I lost my JV coach to Green Canyon. Maddie is going to do a great job. Every week will be a battle.”
The battles will also carry more weight, along with the non-conference matches. This year every team makes it to the state tournament, but seeding will be based on a new RPI format.
“I think this year needs to play out before I can pass judgment,” RHS head coach Denae Pruden said. “My biggest concern, though, is having tournament matches count toward your RPI. In the past I’ve typically used tournaments to play with my lineup and to help guide my personnel decisions going into our region matches. Now, I need to make sure I have my most competitive team representing us at all times.”
Most coaches don’t seem too concerned.
“I'm excited to see a new system, but I've never seen it done this way, so I don't feel like I can fully understand how it works until we get going in our season,” MC head coach Kindra Anderson said. “I think it’s awesome that all teams get a shot at going to state, but it puts a lot more pressure on teams to perform well during the season to be at the top of the RPI standings. There are years that some of the fifth- and sixth-place teams from one region could compete against teams that get to go to state from another region, so overall it will hopefully make it so the teams in the playoffs really are the best teams in the state.”
“I bet you will see our region at the top, first, second, third and even fourth,” Sorensen said. “That’s how strong our region is.”
Now a look at the Region 11 teams from the valley.
The Bobcats return starters Haley McUne and Carly Cottle from a team that went 25-6 a year ago. McUne, who earned honorable mention all-state as a sophomore, will remain as an outside hitter, while Cottle moved from being a middle blocker to the outside.
“Carly has played where I’ve needed her and is doing a nice job,” Sorensen said. She has such a beautiful swing and approach. Haley McUne is just a fireball. She can pass, she can serve and is just a beast at this game.”
The Bobcat coach is happy with how her two middle blockers are progressing in Kaytlin Smart and Jenna Gibbons. She said they will be vital in order to help take pressure off the outside hitters.
Brinley Forsgren is the right side hitter, while Kaitlyn Hiatt has took over as setter. Kelsey Spackman and Addey Wengreen are playing libero or defensive specialist and will see significant time. Freshman Melanie Hiatt started the opener and will split action as a middle blocker and outside hitter.
The Riverhawks tied for second in the region a year ago and went 19-12 overall. They lost seven seniors from that squad, including third-team all-state outside hitter Halle Livingston.
Despite so many seniors, Ridgeline does return two starters in setter Ashlyn Hansen and libero Tess Lawson. Emily Major, Reagan Bowers and Alex Bishop all saw time with the varsity last season.
“We are really deep this year in outsides with Reagan Bowers, Alex Bishop, Gracee Putnam and Danica David,” Pruden said. “I know they’ll do a great job filling that role.”
The Riverhawk coach couldn’t single out a player to watch from her team. She also believes the region is up for grabs.
“In my opinion, we are the most competitive region in 4A,” Pruden said. “Any team can beat any other team on any night. That’s what makes our region matches so much fun. I would hope we’re all gunning for first place, because it makes the teams compete and improve.”
The Wolves also lost some big contributors from the 2018 squad that won two matches at the state tournament. Second-team all-state middle blocker Abby Crane, third-team all-state setter Kylee Humphreys and honorable mention middle blocker Cheyenne Naegle all graduated.
Green Canyon does return some experience in Shante Falslev, Jacie Walker, Livi Longhurst and Sarah Blau. Sabree Adams is back from a knee injury after missing all of 2018.
“Shante Falslev has really improved in the offseason and is hungry to get kills and win,” Larsen said. “Sabree Adams will be a big threat offensively, as well as defensively in the middle.”
The Mustangs have plenty of experience returning. In fact, this team has a core that has been playing together for some time and made some noise at the state tourney two years ago with some sophomores who are now seniors.
Mountain Crest went 7-15 last year and is looking to get back to its winning ways. The Mustangs lost one senior from 2018 in Emma Larsen.
Seniors Tally Sofonia, Ali Pehrson, Ashtyn Tholen, Addie Wood, Katie Keller and Jordon Flippence return, as well as junior Jaycee Osborn and sophomore Ella Douglass.
“We are trying out a new system to make practice more competitive and keep players from becoming complacent, so our starters could change throughout the season depending on how practices go and who is competing,” Anderson said.
Juniors Tess Henrie, Gracie Garlock and Beth Apedaile are fighting for starting spots as well. Katie Keller is back after missing most of the ’18 season with a back injury. She and Wood drew praise from the coach after the season opener.
“Jaycee Osborne is a great setter and does a great job running our offense,” Anderson said. “She is fun to watch play and always goes all out on the court. She is knowledgeable of the game and is always trying to learn more. She builds her teammates up and is a great team player.”
While Anderson is well aware of Sky View’s tradition and the talent Ridgeline has, she feels her Mustangs will be right up there chasing a region title. They last tied for one in 2010.
“Our goal this year is a region championship, and we've been working really hard to prepare for region,” Anderson said. “We were young last year but gained a lot of experience as a varsity team, so we are going to take that experience and the things that we've been working on all summer long to hopefully end up at the top.”
The Grizzlies finished at the bottom of the region last year, going 0-8 and 4-13 overall. They will be looking to crawl out of the cellar under first-year head coach Joe Cullumber.
“With the talent we have and the drive they have as a team, I have confidence we can go far,” Cullumber said. “But it is too soon to ‘call our shot’ on where we see ourselves being this season. We are strong and I can see us going far.”
Logan lost big hitter Jenny KIng, but return outside hitter Bailey Clark, setter Tawnee Tubbs and libero Lindsay Mora. Clark will be looked upon to fill the role King had.
“We have some great talent coming through to fill all other positions,” Cullumber said. “Bailey Clark has been a standout for several years. Tawnee Tubbs is a extremely athletic, consistent setter and a smart player.”
Cullumber called Region 11 good, with “lots of talent.