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OREM — They did it for Adee.

There is no doubt the Ridgeline volleyball team is talented. The Riverhawks have proven that throughout the course of the 2021 season. But they were playing for more than themselves.

Once again with the rally cry of “Adee, Adee,” Ridgeline went out and won. Only this time a state title was on the line. The Riverhawks captured their first championship in the sport in convincing fashion Thursday night at the UCCU Center on the campus of Utah Valley University.

Top-seeded Ridgeline beat second seeded Desert Hills in three sets, 25-12, 26-24, 25-18.

“It’s just so fun to be able to play Adee and for my team,” Riverhawk senior outside hitter Gracee Puntnam said. “This is so fun after playing so hard since being a freshman.”

It was the fourth straight 4A title won by a team from Cache Valley.

“Cache Valley is underrated,” Ridgeline setter Nia Damuni said. “There is so much competition and it’s super competitive.”

Playing Region 11 opponents got the Riverhawks (24-6) ready for anything several players said after celebrating and posing for photos.

“Our region has always been really competitive and we cheer for each other,” Putnam said. “We obviously want to do well, but we like having our region be competitive. It’s fun. I love all the girls in our region.”

And of course the Riverhawks concluded the celebration with an “Adee” chant. Adee Swanton is a freshman on the team that was diagnosed with cancer when the season had just begun. They rallied around their young teammate and wore T-shirts on the bench that read “Swan Of Us.”

“When you are playing for someone besides yourself, it makes everything be for a bigger purpose,” Putnam said. “It’s not me, it’s for Adee. … Our coaches and team are so good, so that helps so much. But we just love Adee and did it for her.”

The Thunder (20-10) came into the title match with plenty of momentum, having won six in a row and only dropping one set. But the Riverhawks were not intimidated whatsoever.

“It takes a village to have success,” Ridgeline head coach Jaicee Roden said. “We have that. I think our village is on the right track.

“... Life is bigger than the game, and it’s important for these girls to learn life lessons while playing volleyball. Volleyball is the easy thing when it comes to life. They did a really nice job in investing and believing and finding a bigger purpose to fight and to push and to just love her (Swanton). It’s important to just love people. She (Swanton) has really been our motivator this year.”

Mira Smullin led the Riverhawks with 12 kills, while Putnam had 11. Maggie Larsen finished with seven kills. Smullin had three blocks, while Larsen had two. Ridgeline had 71 digs as a team, led by Livvy Davies with 19. Brinlie Crosbie had 13 digs. Putnam, Davies and Brooklyn Bishop all passed at 1.8.

“I know that anybody can put the ball away,” Damuni said. “I just have to do my job.”

The night began with Riverhawk senior Ava Wilcox playing the National Anthem on the violin. Ridgeline then proceeded to come out and dominate the opening set.

“We have great unity on this team,” Damuni said. “Our culture is just so good. I’ve never been on a team that is this close. Everyone works hard for each other and it's fun to play when you have that.”

Each set was different Thursday night. The Riverhawks broke the first set open and cruised. They built a good lead in the second, only to see the Thunder rally and push it to extra points. Then in the third, Ridgeline trailed for a good portion before putting together another big push.

“We’ve been trained to play under pressure,” Putnam said. “We know how to do it. It’s just fun at this point.”

“We handle pressure with confidence and composure and courage,” Smullin said. “It works pretty well. … Our depth chart is huge. Nia knows who to set and when.”

Roden, who coached Mountain View to a state title, played at Mountain Crest but never won a title as a player. How was it to guide Ridgeline to a state championship?

“It was awesome at Mountain View and it’s awesome here at Ridgeline,” Roden said. “I wish I could have had one as a player, but you know, to share this with other girls, it’s really exciting.”

The Riverhawks trailed early in the first set, but used a 6-0 run to take control. Smullin had three kills during that surge.

Ridgeline built a 23-10 lead by going on a 13-1 run as Putnam heated up. She had four kills in the first set.

“The girls do a nice job believing and giving all they possibly can,” Roden said. “We want to be resilient. That’s what happened tonight.”

Larsen finished off the first set with back-to-back kills. Roden used her bench throughout the match and seemed to make the right move when the team needed a spark.

“As a former athlete, I really wanted to have coaches that demonstrated trust in me,” Roden said. “In return, the players really need to trust in their coaches. The girls have really done that. We have worked with 18 girls the whole season and they have done a really nice job coming up when their numbers called. They love each other, and it’s been really rewarding.”

A 7-1 run in the second set gave the Riverhawks a 9-5 lead as Damuni kept the Thunder off balance with assists to Putnam and Smullin for kills. There would be five ties and three lead changes in the second as Desert Hills fought to even the match.

Kills by Smullin and Putnam kept the designated home team in front, but the Thunder knotted it up at 24-24. A bad serve by the Thunder and a kill by Bishop finished off the second set for the Riverhawks as Roden once again got the most from a player off the bench.

“We all practice together and switch up the teams so everyone is ready,” Putnam said. “I trust anyone on this team. I know they can get the job done.”

With Ridgeline fans chanting “One more time,” to start the third, the Riverhawks found themselves down 12-6. Roden did not use a timeout, but kept her team focused and encouraged them to keep battling.

They responded with a 4-0 run and then a 6-0 surge to take a 16-14 lead. Danica David had two kills, while Julia Howe saw her first action of the night and responded with back-to-back-to-back kills.

“We came prepared to outwork and out earn points,” Damuni said. “We worked hard in practices. We just came to play.”

A 7-0 run gave the Riverhawks some breathing room. Damuni had a dump kill, while Smullin or Putnam were involved with four of the other points on either kills or blocks. Smullin finished off the match with a kill to send the team into a celebration.

“It feels pretty great to be a state champion,” Smullin said. “... I feel good about our future, but I’m going to enjoy the moment.”

Ridgeline beat region foe Sky View in the semifinals Thursday morning in three, 25-15, 25-21, 25-17.

Leading the Riverhawks in that match were Larsen with eight kills and hitting .333. Smullin had seven kills and hit .400. Putnam served up four aces and made two blocks. Davies had a team-best 10 digs, while Damuni had 27 assists and six digs.

“Nia does a really nice job,” Roden said. “She is athletic, resilient, tough and willing to put the work in. Tonight she did a really nice job running an offense. I’m really proud of her.”

Ridgeline ends the season having won 13 of its last 14 matches.

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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