By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography)
Twelve years ago, Lehi native and Lehi High graduate Jamie Ingersoll took over a Class 3A volleyball program that hadn’t won a region match in five years. A dozen seasons later, Ingersoll completes her run as the head coach of the Pioneers by leading her team into its 10th consecutive state tournament.
“We started in 3A and we struggled, we still didn’t win a match,” Ingersoll said. “I feel like we just had the right chemistry at the right time. We had the right athletes, with the right parents and the right coaching staff that first couple of years, and those sophomores that lost every game, they took third in the state when they were seniors. We haven’t missed a tournament since.”
The Final Run
This final season has provided one last chance for Ingersoll to work with a group of players with whom she is very close.
“We started club with these girls when they were 12 so we’ve been together for a long time,” Ingersoll said. “Every group’s special for different reasons and this group is special too. We just said we’re going to leave it all on the court. You’re going to get the best of me and I expect the same from you and we’ll see how the dice roll at the end. Every year, I tell myself I’m not attaching myself to the freshmen, and then you love them.”
The current group of Pioneers compete in the 5A classification and are among the teams in the conversation when state tournament time comes around.
“A couple of these kids have been three-year varsity starters so they’ve been to the tournament,” Ingersoll said. “It can be an overwhelming environment. They’ve been there several times and hopefully they can use that to their advantage. I just think this team has great balance – we have good middles, we have good outsides, we have good right sides.
“We might beat you on the right side one game and then we might beat you in the middle when our middles catch fire in another game. You’re going to have to defend us from a lot of angles. Hopefully having that extra added balance forces a team to have to look at our middle one second longer or look at the right side. We have somebody new step up every game.”
The state tournament brings its own set of challenges. Lehi gained the No. 2 seed from Region 4 this year, which is one spot higher than the Pioneers started from the last two seasons. Ingersoll says it’s all about getting the flow going early.
“Those first eight points, just get in your rhythm,” Ingersoll said. “The court’s a little different, the atmosphere…you’ve got the four courts and having played there in the summer, you try to build that kind of atmosphere. Just get in your groove and get going. It gets loud, it gets crazy. Hopefully we’re battle tested. We have big crowds at home, so we’re used to that.”
Ingersoll looks to Roberts to deliver big plays when they are needed to change momentum, and she turns to another senior captain, Amber Lamborn, to keep things steady.
“I like to be the calm one on the court,” Lamborn said. “I don’t want to be over the top, but I don’t want to show it in my face if I’m down. I just want to be the calm one everybody can look to and see, ‘Amber’s okay, I’m okay too, so let’s go.’ If you have negative emotion, the other team can see that and they’ll just go at it even harder. You can’t show that negative emotion.”
Lehi reached the state title match a year ago, but lost to Region 4 rival Pleasant Grove, a team the Pioneers are still looking to conquer as postseason play commences for the 2015 season.
Pleasant Grove Rivalry
Lehi knocked off the Vikings twice during the 2014 campaign, but both wins came in three-set tournament matches. Pleasant Grove won both five-set region contests as well as the state tournament finale rematch and then won both league battles this season.
The Pioneers’ senior leaders don’t necessarily mind being the chasers of the three-time defending state champion Vikings, but they hope to close out their final year with the big trophy. To do so, they will need to find a way past Pleasant Grove and the five or six other teams who have the firepower to win it all in Class 5A.
“It’s really competitive and we’ve all played club with all those girls so we know most of them and even their coaches have coached us too, so we all know each other and we’re all friends so that just adds to the fire and the level of competition,” said outside hitter Rylin Roberts. “Hopefully this is our year.”
“I like being the underdog,” added senior libero Sydney White. “It works for me.”
Their coach values the grueling schedule that comes with being positioned in Region 4 and believes it prepares Lehi for state tournament play.
“It’s a love/hate relationship,” Ingersoll said. “It’s a lot of stress. Last year, we finished third in the region, so we beat Cottonwood Game 1 and then we had to go beat Bingham and beat Lone Peak just to get to the finals. We feel like we played in three championship games.
“Credit to the region, that made us tougher – having to play Lone Peak and PG in the same week, turn around and play Riverton and AF and Herriman. Those teams that aren’t qualifying some times, in other regions, they’re 2,3,4. I think you’re battle tested.”
So, after losing a touch five-set match to Pleasant Grove in the season’s final week, what puts the Pioneers in position to finally get the better of their rivals and the rest of the field in this group of five seniors’ final chance at the state championship?
“I think what’s different this year is the seniors have been playing together so long that we have a lot of team chemistry,” White said. “We just know how each other acts and how each other plays. I think that helps a lot this year and I think that gives us an edge.”
One of the keys to success for the Pioneers lies in their need and their ability to keep the opponent guessing.
“I actually think Rachel Richards, our setter, has been doing a really good job,” Roberts said. “Last year, we were really good on the outsides, and she’s done a really good job spreading our offense and our hitters all have the same amount of attempts. I think it throws off other teams. Rachel doesn’t get enough credit, but she does a great job with that.”
Ingersoll likes the resiliency of this year’s team, and knowing there will be ups and downs in the pursuit of a state championship, she is counting on that as a big factor in her team’s favor.
“They’ve weathered some storms and I think they can use that in their veteran leadership,” Ingersoll said. “They don’t need to panic, they can be down four, five, six, seven and they know they can clip away at the thing and don’t have to do it all at once, so I think that leadership is going to be helpful.. (On this team) you never know who’s going to get hot. I never know who’s going to get hot and you’re going to have to defend us from a variety of angles.”
These players draw strength from being close last year and from falling short.
“After we lost in the state championship (last year) that whole summer and this fall, we’ve wanted to go take state and we’ve trained with that in mind,” Roberts said. “Having that heartbreak in our mind while we train and while we lift, I think we have a lot more confidence. We know we can be there and we can win it. We were so close last year, that extra drive will help us.”
“You give 100 percent every single time we’re in the gym, when we go out to run,” Lamborn added. “We just give 100 percent every ball.”
That Lehi Crowd
One thing you can count on come state tournament time is the Lehi cheering section will bring it. The players count on it and really appreciate the support they receive from the students and the community.
“I love the state tournament. Nothing beats the state tournament,” Roberts said. “We always get so many students to come out and it’s always so hyped up and there’s so much energy. My favorite part is how involved our school gets and the expectations we get, and the expectations we’ve had.
“I just like looking out and seeing all those people, not just the students, but we also have parents and grandparents that come and watch us, even if they’re not related to girls. It helps me remember what I represent, my city and my town and my school and it means a lot to me and I want to play good for them.”
“We got told after games at state that they’ve never seen that big of a crowd,” White added. “We have other teams giving us props and it’s the most fun thing. You want to play well for the people that came to support you.”
A Dozen Years of Success
Ingersoll and 12 years of Pioneers have already done so much for volleyball in Lehi so they will enjoy this last opportunity to represent their city.
“I feel like we collectively put Lehi volleyball on the map and that’s something that parents, athletes, coaches have all worked together to make that happen,” Ingersoll said. “I’m proud of that. No one used to talk about Lehi, and now we’re in the talk. There’s an expectation to win and to beat big teams.”
The coach would love to keep sharing her love for this game, but it’s time to turn her attention to family. She will teach and the new Skyridge High School in Lehi beginning in 2016, but will not coach there.
“It really is family,” Ingersoll said. “My husband’s the baseball coach at American Fork, my oldest is 12 and he’s going to junior high and then I’m going to have a 9-year-old and I still have a small one at home, a 3-year-old. My two older ones are getting so heavily involved. I’ve got football practice, 14 baseball games a week. They’re getting harder to shuffle and harder to manage Jarod’s schedule.
“Ultimately, I just think I’ve been coaching everyone else’s kids for so long and I just felt my kids needed a full-time mom. They might want me to go back to coaching… That really came down to family and needing less stress at home.”
Ingersoll will be close enough to keep watching the program she has worked so hard to build, and she will also continue to watch the players who have come through.
“(There are) lots of awesome memories,” Ingersoll said. “We’ve gone through a lot of changes. The relationships are always going to be No. 1. Those relationships are just priceless. I’m proud that I could bring something to this community. The kids in this community, they live in Lehi, they go to Lehi, they just love Lehi.
“They’re not looking for a bigger, better school. They’re not looking for something else. They grew up here and they wanted to play here and that’s all that mattered to them. They could have gone somewhere else, but that didn’t matter to them. They just wanted to stay in Lehi.”