By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Ari Davis
Regional realignment is certain to have a significant impact on volleyball throughout Utah, as UHSAA’s new look will particularly impact the state’s top two classifications. Some matchups that have been much anticipated will go away, at least in their past form and new rivalries will form.
Before we even get to a discussion about the impact of realignment, there is one player whose presence will be missed, unexpectedly, during the 2015 high school volleyball season. Monday, we were greeted with this news on Twitter from Pleasant Grove star, and last year’s Class 5A MVP, Bailey Nixon.
Nixon was perhaps the top returning player in the state, and I will miss watching her powerful game at the net and from the service line for the Vikings. I am sure she will miss playing her senior year more than it will impact me, but there are just some athletes that are worth watching, and Nixon is surely one of those on the volleyball court.
Hopefully all will go well with her recovery and we will see her soon when she laces them up for Utah Valley University in 2016. For now, the road to a fourth straight state title is a little more difficult for Allyce Jones and Pleasant Grove.
So, how will UHSAA realignment impact the chase for state volleyball titles?
While Pleasant Grove pursues No. 4 in a row in 5A, Timpview has to reload its roster as it looks for a third straight 4A championship. The pursuit will look a little bit different for both defending champs. Here are some of the realignment reasons why.
1) Sky View is moving up – The Class 4A title matchup the past three seasons has featured the same two teams. In 2012, Sky View took a tough five-set battle from Timpview, and the Thunderbirds won title tilt rematches each of the past two campaigns.
Now, the Bobcats are in 5A Region 1 so Timpview will have to find a new rival to get it motivated as the state tournament progresses. It will make for a different look in 4A to be without Sky View, but now the Bobcats, along with former Region 5 rival Mountain Crest will raise the level of competition in 5A.
With the always strong Region 4 teams, along with teams like Bingham and Davis still there in what is an always-competitive 5A tournament, adding Sky View to the mix should increase the drama as the Bobcats figure out how well they can adapt to the new mix of opponents.
If they make the move smoothly, Region 1 teams like Northridge and Fremont that have been very good in recent years will not enjoy as much relief in the chase for a league title as they might have from having Davis moved to Region 2. The battle for Region 1 will remain one of the battles to watch.
2) Taylorsville moves to Region 3 – For the past few years, Taylorsville has dominated play in Region 2. The league has been down a bit overall, and the Warriors have been the class of the region.
Now, realignment moves Taylorsville to Region 3, where a team that has not lost more than one region game in any season recently will do battle with Bingham, which has been at the top of Region 3 since being moved there in the last reorganization two years ago.
It will be a good regular season test for the Warriors to see the Miners a couple of times, and might help them better prepare for state tournament competition.
3) Region 4 remains intact – A year ago, Pleasant Grove won the state title by knocking off Region 4 rival Lehi. In 2012, the Vikings’ championship run went through league foe Lone Peak. In any year, those three teams are among the most talented in the state, and Riverton has built a pretty good program as well.
Realignment did not touch Region 4 and that means the first fight each of these powerhouses face is to get through league play. It’s because of the quality this region has from top to bottom that we will find out before we get to the state playoffs just how well Pleasant Grove is doing in overcoming the loss of Bailey Nixon.
Then again, if history is any indication, you don’t always have to win Region 4 to win the state title. That 2012 season featured a Lone Peak regular season league championship before the Vikings knocked off the Knights in the state championship rematch.
4) New rivalries for Timpview – Timpview has been the class of Class 4A volleyball for the past four seasons, winning three state championships and finishing second in the other year (when Sky View won that five-setter in 2012). Now, the T-Birds, who have seen the core of those teams graduate over the past two years, will look to reload while playing in a new region and with new teams to hold off in 4A.
Not only will Timpview not see seemingly ever-present Sky View in the state championship round, the teams that have become its fiercest regular-season rivals, specifically Salem Hills and more recently Springville, stay behind to fight for Region 8 while the Thunderbirds are moving to a new neighborhood to battle with some old friends.
Cross-town rival Provo is coming along as well, so at least Timpview will have that to look forward to, but now it returns to share a league with Orem, Mountain View and Timpanogos, while also figuring out matchups with relative newcomer Corner Canyon and Alta, just moved in from Class 5A.
Skyline and Bountiful will be among the teams waiting once postseason play arrives, and there is always the chance of a renewal of old acquaintances if young Salem Hills continues to develop.
5) It’s still Region 9 – It seems like we say this in pretty much every sport, even in football where it is not even called Region 9 anymore, but when it comes time for the 3A state playoffs, it is time for Region 9 to shine.
Last year, Snow Canyon won the state championship, while Desert Hills and Dixie finished third and fourth, and Hurricane was also in the top seven. In 2013, it was Hurricane on top, with Desert Hills second and Snow Canyon third. Desert Hills took state in 2012, beating Snow Canyon in the finale, as Dixie and Hurricane finished fifth and sixth.
I think the point is made. With those six teams bunched together down there in Southern Utah, realignment will generally leave them alone. That means the battle for a league title will be as difficult as the state tournament that will follow.
6) Trading places – The closest thing to a rival for those Region 9 teams over the past few years has been Morgan. The Trojans finished second in the state last year with a team that many gave a good chance to win it all.
That Morgan team has now moved from Region 10 to Region 11, which still leaves it as a contender for the 3A title. The Trojans are trading places with last year’s Region 11 champion, Tooele, which will now battle with Park City, among others, for the Region 10 crown.