SMITHFIELD — The fall of 2018 was a special one for sisters Ashlee and Haley McUne as they helped propel Sky View’s volleyball team to the 4A state championship.
The Amalga residents will now try to make some lasting memories competing together at the collegiate level — Haley, a soon-to-be Sky View senior, verbally committed to Utah State a few months ago, while Ashlee signed with the Aggies last week.
Having siblings play on the same Division I team is a rare opportunity very few Cache Valley natives get to experience. Ashlee McUne plans on serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints following the upcoming fall semester, so the siblings won’t compete for the Aggies together until the 2022 academic year.
“For me, it’s really special,” Ashlee said. “That bond we have (is strong). I’ve never had another libero or defensive player that I just know they’re going to be there (in the right spot) and I can do my job, and I know they’re going to do theirs and have complete faith in them. But with my sister, I have that complete faith that she’s going to be there and I feel like it makes us a pretty good duo, and I’m excited for this chance.”
Ashlee was able to earn her way on the radar of new USU head coach Rob Neilson following an outstanding freshman season at junior college program Utah State Eastern.
The crafty 5-foot-8 setter racked up a whopping 1,437 assists, which ranked first among all junior college players during the regular season, and her 11.5 assists per set was the third-highest average nationally. She also ranked second on her team in aces (39), fourth in digs (341) and contributed with 35 blocks and 36 kills during the 2019 campaign. Ashlee recorded 15 double-doubles throughout the season for the Golden Eagles, who won a program-record 27 matches and finished 12th in the final NJCAA Poll.
USU Eastern (27-9) lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to Snow College in the championship match of the Region XIII Tournament, preventing the Golden Eagles from punching their ticket to nationals. Ashlee, who finished with 40 or more assists in 19 of 36 matches, garnered first-team all-region honors.
Indeed, it was a memorable season for the daughter of Treva and Scott McUne from an individual and collective standpoint.
“I really appreciated the growth I made at USU Eastern, not only in volleyball, but as a person,” Ashlee said. “I learned a lot in school. I learned a lot about how different coaches coach and I learned a lot about how much harder it is academically in college. I had that experience so when I go to USU this fall, I’m not going to freak out because I’m missing half a week of classes (while playing volleyball on the road). And so I felt like it was a great stepping stone in my journey.”
And while her lone season at USU Eastern was unforgettable, Ashlee is excited to fulfill one of her primary goals, which is playing at the D-I level.
“I have gone to college camps since I was in seventh grade, and so the goal ever since then was to play D-I (volleyball),” said Ashlee, who was tabbed a first-team all-state selection as a senior at Sky View after leading all 4A players in assists (838), and also chipping in with 66 aces (first on her team), 236 digs and 45 kills.
Ashlee also caught the attention of other collegiate programs during her season at USU Eastern as she was recruited by New Mexico State and several small four-year programs. The chance to play in front of family and friends at USU was something Ashlee ultimately couldn’t pass up.
The 19-year-old is anxious to help the Aggies try to get back on track. USU is coming off a 2-28 season, with both of those wins coming in Mountain West Conference play. Ashlee is one of 16 athletes and three setters on USU’s 2020 roster.
“Due to COVID-19, I haven’t met the full team yet, but the girls I have met are super nice and I feel like we have a ton of talent from what I have seen,” said Ashlee, who plans on majoring in biochemistry, is considering a second major in exercise science and aspires to go to medical school. “And I feel like with our new coach and just the new environment that I feel like he’s bringing in, I feel like we can do pretty well. We still have a lot of learning to do, but I feel like we will be able to do pretty well.”
In addition to shining on the volleyball court, Ashlee is a well-rounded athlete who excelled for Sky View’s track & field team. As a senior, she captured Region 12 titles in the javelin and shot put, and was the bronze medalist in the discus. Ashlee then proceeded to secure a spot on the podium at the 4A State Championships in the shot put (fourth place) and discus (sixth).
“We are excited to have Ashlee join our team,” Neilson said in a press release. “She brings a competitive fire and high volleyball IQ to our program. She wants to be great on the court and is equally driven in the classroom.”
Like her sister, Haley is also a passionate and driven competitor on the court. Both siblings have volleyball in their blood, inasmuch as they have grown up playing the sport and their parents are the founders of the Cache Valley Volleyball Club. Treva McUne played at the College of Southern Idaho and Boise State, and helped lead CSI to a NJCAA National Championship. Treva and Scott both have extensive coaching experience.
“It helps a lot that my mom and dad are coaches,” Haley said. “I can be around volleyball a lot and see what people do, and it helps me learn (by observing) what are they going to do next.”
In Haley, the Aggies will eventually be getting a very versatile player who has started at the varsity level ever since she was a freshman. The soon-to-be 17-year-old was a libero for Green Canyon as a freshman, an outside hitter for Sky View as a sophomore and senior, and also has experience as a setter at the club level. The 5-foot-8 explosive leaper and hard hitter was recruited by Neilson as a libero.
“I don’t really care what position I’m playing, as long as I get to play as much as possible,” said Haley, who is also a talented track & field athlete. “It took me a lot of practice to get to this point, because I was a setter for a long time and I was a libero, and I grew a bit and was an outside (hitter) for Sky View. And now I’m going back to libero (for college), but whatever coach needs, I’ll do. I just want to play.”
Haley is coming off a monster ’19 season for the Bobcats as she finished first in the region and third among all 4A players in kills (380), third in the region in digs (297), and also added 44 aces and 41 blocks, and received serve a whopping 451 times. The first-team all-state selection recorded double-digs kills in her team’s last 11 matches and was a double-double machine for the Bobcats, who shared the region title with eventual 4A champion Green Canyon and placed third at state.
As a sophomore, No. 34 finished second on Sky View’s state championship squad in kills with 210.
Haley was also strongly considering the same offer — two years as a walk-on, two years as a scholarship player — at Southern Utah University, but was ecstatic for the chance to stay at home and not live in a dorm room.
“It was kind of hard to go watch Ashlee over at USU Eastern,” Haley said. “It wasn’t like far away, but it wasn’t super close either, and SUU is even further away (from home). ... I didn’t really want to leave home. She does,” Haley said while laughing and motioning at Ashlee.
And although it will be a couple of years before the McUne sisters embark on their college experience together, it is something Haley is looking forward to.
“I haven’t played with Ashlee for a little while. We’ve definitely grown more. We used to fight a lot, but we get along a lot better now. Honestly, I don’t really know what it’s going to be like. I’m pretty excited. I will be like the first time she’s not setting me. Now, I’ll be digging (the ball) to her, passing it to her.”