OREM – The goal for the Desert Hills volleyball team at the start of the season was to be playing at 6 p.m. on October 27, 2016 at Utah Valley University.
The Thunder did just that, riding a strong region campaign and a well-played first three games at the 3A state tournament at UVU.
But their goal for a state title ended at the hands of defending champion Morgan, who swept Desert Hills in the final (15-25, 26-28, 21-25) and won its second state straight championship.
“Morgan outplayed us tonight, they played calmer than we did, and were a little spastic and going all over the court, we couldn’t just calm down and play our game,” senior setter Hailee Harmer said, while fighting back tears.
Most of the Thunder players buried their heads in their hands, others sat for long periods of time after they received the runner-up trophy.
For the six seniors on the team, including Harmer, and outside hitters Rachel Winters and Charity Bradley, it was their final high school game.
Like most of the games this season, Winters and Bradley led the team in kills and digs. Winters had 15 kills and 14 digs, Bradley had 14 kills and 13 digs. Harmer had 26 assists and seven digs.
Morgan had an edge in experience. Though the Trojans’ starters weren’t the starters on last year’s team, they were part of the state-title team and knew how to handle their nerve.
Desert Hills, meanwhile, didn’t have as much experience in terms of finals appearances because the last time the Thunder were in the title game was four years ago.
“They’ve never been in an arena like this, I think they were playing tight, tighter than they normally have, I haven’t seen them play that kind of out-of-control ball so, yeah, I think the emotion was high and they were playing off emotion,” head coach Jill Swaney said.
The Thunder needed to be at the top of their game to take down the juggernaut Morgan, which lived up to its hype of tournament favorites by playing a very solid, all-around game.
Morgan started well in the first set, hitting from all along the net and serving very well. They led 19-9 before closing it out 25-15.
Desert Hills regrouped and took small leads in the second set, eventually leading 20-17 before the Thunder’s serve, which had been dominant the whole season, eluded them and Morgan grabbed the second set.
Again Desert Hills took a lead late in the third set 17-16 and again Morgan came back, making it 21-18 before the Trojans held firm for the three-set sweep.
For Morgan and its longtime head coach Liz Wiscombe, it was the Trojans’ 17th state title.
Wiscombe keeps pennies in her shoe every game as a superstition, but she said a big key to the game was how versatile her players are.
“Our middles can hit anywhere along the net, we’re not stuck just to one spot or another and it makes a difference. You can pick on kids, you can pick on blocks, you can move your kids wherever you need them,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Desert Hills beat Park City in four sets in the semifinals (25-7, 23-25, 25-13, 25-18). Winters led the team with 23 kills, Bradley had 18 and Harmer had 42 assists.
Seniors Madison Clark and Jessica Harris combined for 12 kills from the middle on short sets and tips as the Miners keyed on Winters and Bradley. The Thunder also hit 15 aces in a lights-out serving performance.
In consolation bracket matches, Pine View won its first match against Stansbury (25-10, 25-20, 19-25, 26-24), then lost to Juab in the sixth-place title game in four sets.
Dixie fell to North Sanpete in the fifth-place bracket in four sets (18-25, 27-25, 14-25, 17-25).
Connect with reporter Patrick Carr on Twitter @PatrickCarr_ and on Facebook at Facebook.com/PatrickJosephCarr1/ or call him at (435) 231-3834.