Story by RYAN COMER • Standard-Examiner Staff
BOUNTIFUL — It may seem natural to doubt a team after it loses one of the top players in the state, but if you doubted the Bountiful High volleyball team this year following the graduation of Kennedy Redding, you made a mistake.
The Braves proved they could absorb the blow of Redding’s departure and still win a state championship, and are the Standard-Examiner’s 2016-17 All-Area Team of the Year.
Not only did Bountiful win a state championship, the Braves lost only two matches — neither to an opponent from Utah — all season. In the state tournament, Bountiful swept all four of its opponents.
“We kind of felt like we had something to prove, even though we had (won state) the year before,” Bountiful coach Sarah Chism said. “We felt like everybody was just again waiting for Bountiful to fall, and we just weren’t going to let that happen.”
Although Bountiful’s overall record — and especially its state tournament performance — may not indicate it, the season wasn’t without struggles. In the season opener against Fremont, Bountiful rallied after dropping the first two sets.
In a region game at Box Elder, Bountiful again needed to rally after dropping the first two sets.
The Braves lost to Skyview and Bonneville — a pair of Idaho teams — in September’s Rocky Mountain Champions Classic, but junior setter and captain Bri Mortensen, who is committed to play at Utah Valley University, said it was a blessing.
“I think that’s the best thing that could have happened for us because we all got back in the gym so motivated to work,” Mortensen said.
Bountiful exacted revenge on Skyview while winning the Claim Jumper Tournament a month later. That tournament win also included a three-set victory over Idaho Falls that the Braves trailed 14-9 in the third set.
“Over and over and over, they would fight and fight and fight and fight,” Chism said. “Most people don’t really keep up on volleyball until the state tournament and then they might watch it here and there so they say, ‘this team just swept the state tournament, they didn’t lose a set’ — but if you look at what we did over the whole season, it was absolutely magical the way they would fight back and win.”
One crucial factor in their success was a championship attitude from the start.
“We started talking about state from the very beginning of the season and we said what our goal was,” said senior captain Kelsie White, who will be playing next year at Montana State University. “We expected that to be everyone else’s goal and we talked about it every day.
“Even just visualizing walking into the UVU arena was so key in getting there and being prepared,” White said.
Though every game presented different challenges, Bountiful could always count on someone stepping up. Against Idaho Falls, White said that person was senior Seyvion Waggoner, who will be playing volleyball at Rice University.
“Sey just held us on her back,” White said. “I just felt like that’s what created our leaders. It was so amazing to me how we can trust someone like Sey and how Sey can take that upon herself to put all of us on her back and lead us.”
In the state tournament, White said it was a collaborative effort — but one sophomore stepped up to make an impressive contribution.
Senior captain Hannah Nielson sprained her ankle early in Bountiful’s quarterfinal against Skyridge and was not able to finish the match. She was replaced by sophomore Baily Jenkins.
Though she appeared nervous, Waggoner said the team believed in Jenkins.
“My genuine feelings were, ‘Baily, you’re here for a reason. We trust you,’” Waggoner said.
The first point after Nielson left was from a Jenkins block.
Not content to simply sit on the bench, Nielson took it upon herself to instruct Jenkins to prevent out of rotation calls.
“She’s over there, ‘You got to go left, left, up, up, OK, you’re good right there,’” Chism said. “She could have sat on the end line and wallowed and been like, ‘This is it for me’ and quit, but again, the team was greater than the individual, and she came and was telling Baily everywhere to go.”
Nielson returned two days later for the semifinal and championship matches.
The season’s theme was the pursuit of potential, Chism said.
“It wasn’t about being better than anyone else, it was about being their best, and they knew that their best could be the best,” she said.
Contact Standard-Examiner sports reporter Ryan Comer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanComerSe and on Facebook.