Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
PROVO – It was an early-season matchup between a pair of championship programs trying to find the player combinations that will help them get back in the winner’s circle. Three-time defending 5A state volleyball champion Pleasant Grove went to back-to-back 4A title winner Timpview Tuesday night and knocked off the Thunderbirds 3-1 (25-18, 25-14, 21-25, 25-22).
While graduation has put Timpview into reloading mode in 2015, injuries are the biggest contributor to the Vikings’ need to bring even more newcomers into their main rotation.
The Thunderbirds return just one player who saw significant court time during last season’s state title run, in senior outside hitter Sarah Roach, while setter Agatha Roese saw some limited duty. The T-Birds reloaded thanks to a number of players who have moved to town, so once they get a chance to gel, this team has a chance to be very good.
Graduation impacted Pleasant Grove, but when returning Class 5A MVP Bailey Nixon tore the ligaments in her knee a month ago, the Vikings suffered a major blow. Then, senior setter Jeniel Biggs required surgery to repair a herniated disc, and the drive for title No. 4 in a row took another hit.
On Tuesday night, it was Pleasant Grove getting off to a fast start, while the home team struggled to find any kind of rhythm to its game. While the Thunderbirds were misfiring during much of the first two sets, the Vikings took advantage.
As the opening game went back and forth, it was a couple of lefty swings by Pleasant Grove sophomore Jaquelyn Langhaim, combined with kills from sophomore Kazna Tarawhiti and senior Natalie Rider that allowed the Vikings to open a five-point margin.
Then, Brooklyn Dahl buried a big point that was followed by a ball into the net from Timpview that put the Vikings on the verge of winning the opening set. Tarawhiti delivered the winning kill to end Set 1.
There was clearly a momentum carryover into the second set, as Pleasant Grove scored the first seven points before Timpview junior Jensyn Turner delivered a successful block to end the scoring run. T-Bird mistakes played a major role in that 7-0 start, but Tarawhiti, Dahl and Rider all got into the act as well.
The lead grew to nine points, at 14-5, on a Sara Hamson kill, followed by back-to-back blocks by Hamson and then Malli Valgardson before Timpview showed signs of life that got the margin down to four points when it reached 16-12. Roese set Turner and Sai Collins on consecutive points, and after senior Thea Leiataua dumped a point in, Turner and Collins combined on a block.
That was as close as the Thunderbirds could get in the second set as Pleasant Grove scored nine of the last 11 points of that game to close it out and take the 2-0 advantage. Dahl delivered a number of big points during that surge to lift her team when it looked like that big lead might be slipping away.
After coming from behind to win a matchup almost exactly one year ago when these two teams met in Pleasant Grove, this new Timpview team looked to replicate that success from last year’s group. The Vikings made some mistakes in the early stages of the third set, allowing Timpview to build a seven-point advantage, and Pleasant Grove was never able to get back from that.
Roach was the catalyst for the third-set improvement by the Thunderbirds, with a lot of help at the net from Turner and Collins. Kills by Roach and Turner closed out the third set and forced the match to continue.
The fourth set featured the kind of battle that we have come to expect when these two champions get together. The teams traded small margins through most of the fourth set, with Timpview leading by as many as four points (9-5) as the largest lead.
From the time the set score was 13-12 for Pleasant Grove, the teams swapped side-outs for the next 13 service points, and were tied 19-19 heading into the stretch run. Then, a block by senior Taylor Ferrel and Turner followed by a Vikings’ return into the net, allowed the Thunderbirds to get back up on top by two points.
Hamson’s block got Pleasant Grove back even at 21-21 and then a kill by Natasha Su’a-Filo gave the Vikings the lead. After Timpview went long to put Pleasant Grove within two points of closing out the match, Turner buried a block to provide a reprieve. It proved to be only temporary, however, as Hamson delivered consecutive kills to close out the set, and the match.
It was the second win of the season for the Vikings (2-0), who beat a highly-regarded Northridge squad last week, while this was the season-opener for the Thunderbirds, who travel to Springville Thursday night.