When the dust settled at the 2018 1A State Volleyball Tournament in Orem Oct. 27, four teams finished with three wins and one loss, and one team alone was 4-0. Two of those five teams call San Juan County home.
By now, most folks in the county know that Monticello finished in second place. But today we’re going to get a lesson in flying under the radar. That’s what the Monument Valley Cougars did in what was their best season as far back as recent records go.
From 2006 until this year, Monument Valley had played all four games at the state tournament just four times. They appeared in the sixth place match in 2008 and in the fifth place match in 2010, 2014, and 2015. But they had never won.
That changed this year when the Cougars topped the Valley Buffalos to capture fifth place in the state, capping off a very successful season. Their only loss at the tournament came in the quarterfinals against eventual state champion Panguitch.
Fifth-year Monument Valley head coach Vanessa Russell said it was exciting to finally get over the hump and close the year out with a win. Russell coached the five seniors who made up the core of the 2018 Cougars from the time they were in junior high.
She said she was very happy for them, and it was most rewarding to see them “come together as a team and help each other a lot more. That was lacking last year,” she said, referring to the team that was eliminated in the 2017, ultimately finishing in fifth place at the semifinals. Russell said one of her favorite things this season was watching the girls talking and laughing together.
She said this year’s edition of the team had chemistry. “We had a good team that was willing to work together. They weren’t afraid to say what they needed to fix. They corrected areas that were lacking and learned from last year.
“I would always tell them that in order to be a team, everybody needs to have one goal and everybody has to work towards that goal. It can’t just be one, two, or three people. It has to be everybody in it all together,” Russell explained.
Headed into the fifth place game on Oct. 27, the girls were tired and sore. “I told them, that will only last for a few days,” Russell said, “but none of the teams at our school have gotten this far and won.”
At the tournament, Russell told the girls to play hard, have no regrets, and put everything they had into the games. She said they were satisfied with their performance after the weekend and had a good feeling about it.
It was definitely a good performance that drew compliments from some in attendance and even attracted attention from college recruiters.
And sadly, a single-elimination tournament with consolation brackets doesn’t provide the four teams who finished with one loss the opportunity to play each other to truly settle second through fifth place.
Next year will be like starting from scratch again for Russell, just like when she began as head coach at Monument Valley. She said she’s excited to take on the challenge of once again shaping a group of young, inexperienced girls into the team she envisions.
Russell reiterated that it was exciting to win fifth place, but she would love to build a team that can make the final four and even the championship game. She also hinted at a more local goal.
“When I coached in junior high, our team beat Monticello and everyone was very happy,” Russell said. “I’d love to have that feeling as a varsity coach.”
Speaking as a sports fan, broadcaster, and columnist, I’ll say it’s a good dilemma to have a county full of strong volleyball teams…even if it happens under the radar.