OREM – It wasn’t much of a 4A volleyball state championship Saturday evening.
Ridgeline saw to that.
The Riverhawks followed up on winning their first state title in the sport last year by repeating on the campus of Utah Valley University. Ridgeline rarely trailed and thoroughly dominated fifth-seeded Desert Hills, winning in three, 25-21, 25-8, 25-16.
“This one is probably sweeter,” Riverhawk outside hitter Maggie Larsen said.
Larsen got no argument from teammates or her coach.
“It is sweeter this year for sure,” Ridgeline senior Nia Damuni said. “Going back-to-back feels great.”
“This year is much better, because I’m a senior,” Riverhawk Elli Holland said.
“I can’t help but be so happy about this,” Ridgeline head coach Jaicee Roden said. “It feels just as sweet every time. … These girls came in knowing what they wanted to accomplish and got it. They did well.”
Despite winning Region 11 and going undefeated in the process, the Riverhawks (24-7) were seeded third behind Sky View and Green Canyon. Ridgeline blanked the Wolves in the semifinals earlier Saturday, 25-17, 25-14, 25-11. If they used the seeding as extra motivation, they weren’t saying.
“EIther way, you have to win whatever the seed is,” Roden said. “We just knew we needed to come in and take care of business. The girls did that.”
“We really didn’t care about our seeding,” Holland said. “We just knew we could do it. We just came and played our hearts out.”
Desert Hills got to the final by edging Sky View in a five-set thriller, 16-25, 26-24, 25-21, 22-25, 15-11. But the Thunder (22-8) had no answer for the Riverhawks.
“We just play every small game to five and don’t stop until we are at 25,” Larsen said. “We really just focus on the little games to five until we get there. We don’t stop.”
Once again the Riverhawks used a balanced attack. Larsen led the team with 11 kills, while Julia Howe finished with 10. Alyssa Anderson added nine kills. There was a laser focus by the Riverhawks in all facets of the game.
“We really focus on five C letters, confidence, composure, courage, communication and competition,” Howe said. “We always talk about those. I think we have really mastered them this season. Last week we had a lot of freshmen and junior football boys come in and annoy us at practice so we could be calm under pressure.”
About the only mistake Howe made Saturday was not succeeding in pouring a container of water on Roden.
“I guess I’m not very good at that sport,” Howe said with a laugh.
Other players had her back, though, using a water bottle to get Roden wet before the team departed.
Ridgeline got it done behind the service line as well with 12 aces. Larsen, Damuni and Livvey Davies each had three.
“I’m super proud of these girls,” Roden said. “They focus a lot on small goals and tasks. They did a really good job.”
The block wasn’t needed as much as the Riverhawks dominated. Holland did have three blocks. Gracie Cole led the team with 12 digs.
“We train so hard, so if there is stress or anything, we fall back to our training,” Holland said. “We are consistent.”
After a touching rendition of the National Anthem by Ridgeline senior Mac Cornia, the Riverhawks raced out to a 10-3 lead to start the opening set. Ridgeline never trailed, but did thwart off the Thunder who rallied to tie the set three times. A Larsen kill and ace by Mira Smullin finished off the first set as the Riverhawks scored the final four points.
“It was nice for everything to come together for us seniors,” Larsen said. “It was exciting how it all came together.”
Desert Hills scored first in the second set to lead for the first time in the match. But the celebration didn’t last long.
“We have mad respect for our opponents, but we focus a lot on our side,” Roden said. “We have played really good opponents, but we can’t control the other side. The girls have done a really, really good job of being gritty, playing tough, believing in themselves and being confident in their training.”
Ridgeline scored four straight points on a kill by Larsen and two aces from the senior. That surge was part of a 11-2 run by the designated home team, who built a 11-3 lead.
“We came ready to play,” Howe said. “We were focused from the start. … Our whole team is really talented. We have a good balance.”
The Thunder were able to score back-to-back points, but then the Riverhawks were off and rolling again. Back-to-back aces from Davies sparked a 8-1 surge.
“We had some servers go to the backline and just put some speed and float on the ball, and that ball was moving,” Roden said. “That’s what you want at the end of the season. It just all came together at the right moment. That’s a really good job on their part. … Livvey even came in and served with a broken jaw with her mouth wired shut.”
Ridgeline finished off the set with a 6-1 run. Larsen ended it with a kill. The Riverhawks had eight aces in the set.
“This was definitely not the hardest game we have ever played,” Larsen said. “But every opponent is good, every game is hard. We just played our hearts out.”
Trailing 6-3 early in the third set, the Riverhawks quickly responded from their biggest deficit of the match. They went on a 12-3 run to take the lead for good, 15-9, as Damuni, who mainly sets, was given the opportunity to hit and came up with a trio of kills.
“That was a lot of fun,” Damuni said.
The Thunder did tie the match twice after scoring six straight points.
After a timeout, the Riverhawks soared. They scored the final nine points of the set and match to set off a championship celebration. A hitting error by Desert Hills after a long rally ended the match.
“I’ve said it over and over again, this team is the most mentally tough,” Damuni said. “Not looking at the record, I think we are the best team in Utah. Physically and mentally, we just work hard. … We have really good chemistry, but that came with spending time together and getting extra reps.”
Could the Riverhawks possibly three-peat?
“We are going to celebrate tonight,” Roden said.