The San Juan High School volleyball team finished the 2018 season with an impressive 29 wins and six losses, but they fell just three sets shy of a state championship.
The 2019 edition of the team has their sights set on getting back to that championship game, but changing the outcome this time around. They’ve started out on the right foot, with a straight-set victory last Thursday night over the rival Monticello Lady Buckaroos.
Third-year head coach Kelli Keyes said with a chuckle that it’s always fun to win, but especially against your former coach.
She said she was excited about the support her team received in game one, explaining that the student section in the SJHS gymnasium was as full as she’s ever seen it. A big part of the Lady Broncos’ win was how well they hit the ball.
With one game behind them and a matchup in Kanab coming up this Thursday, we’ll take a look at what’s going to make San Juan a stronger team in 2019 according to Coach Keyes, despite the fact they lost one of the best setters Utah has ever seen in Bodell Nielson.
Joining Keyes this year are two new assistant coaches: fellow Monticello alum Ally Anderson and Grand County graduate Janna Rogers. Keyes said it’s funny that former rivals are now fully committed to making San Juan the best team in the state.
The Lady Broncos return five starters and five seniors to the 2019 roster. Coach Keyes said she feels the experience on the court this year is a big reason the team is stronger. Despite losing Nielson, she said, “this team can get a hit on the ball no matter where the set is.”
Outside hitter, senior Ta’ssi Su’esu’e reads the ball very well, Keyes said, “and has one of the most beautiful natural swings that I’ve ever seen. Her defense is very good too.”
Senior Delaney Palmer is a good hitter from the middle blocker position. Keyes said she’s an intense player and can stuff anyone.
Whitney Ivins will step in to fill the very large shoes vacated by Bodell Nielson. Keyes will use Ivins as both a setter and outside hitter this year.
Coach Keyes said Ivins is scrappy, has a beautiful swing, can read the ball, and can play any position.
Hope Holliday will fill the role of libero for the 2019 Lady Broncos. Keyes said Holliday “is just a beast in the back row because she never gives up.”
Junior middle blocker Jerika Torgerson also returns from last season and will help the Lady Broncos in tough battles.
Senior Madi Palmer, who skipped a year to play soccer, returns to the volleyball court for 2019. Coach Keyes said Palmer “is a competitive athlete and she is here to help us win.”
Keyes said the Brown sisters have both made great strides in their game and will be a big help to San Juan – sophomore Bailey at the setter position, and junior Sadie as a defensive specialist and outside hitter.
One of the main strengths of the 2019 Lady Broncos is that they are very close, said Keyes. “They’ve been playing together for a long time and they are very united with the same goal in mind.”
When asked about weaknesses, Keyes said, “We’ll be working on our blocking and defense.” She said she hopes the team can also fine-tune the mental aspect of the game and learn how to recover when they are down in a game or when they lose.
She explained that the girls expect perfection and sometimes forget that they’re human. She said she would like to see them be less hard on themselves.
An early highlight of the season is coming up in two weeks when the Lady Broncos travel to Richfield to face their former long-time coach Cassy Moon and her Lady Wildcats.
Keyes said Richfield will be the Lady Broncos’ toughest competition in a realigned Region 12. Other challenges this year are the Tournament of Champions at Skyline High School and the Wasatch Tournament.
The 2019 season cranks into full swing this Thursday, August 29 when the Lady Broncos head to Kanab to take on the Lady Cowboys.