The San Juan High School volleyball team finished the regular season with 21 wins and four losses. They won a second straight region championship with a 10-0 record.
They were the top ranked team in 3A volleyball headed into the postseason and the team to beat on paper.
Unfortunately, paper doesn’t stand up to fire, and none of those accomplishments earned wins at the UCCU Center at Utah Valley University in Orem.
The site of the 3A Utah State Volleyball Championships was where the Lady Broncos hoped to erase the heartbreak of the 2018 championship game loss to Morgan by bringing home the 2019 title.
The tournament started as planned. After a first round bye, San Juan picked up an easy second-round sweep of the Providence Hall Lady Patriots in round two.
It was more of a battle in the quarterfinals with the Lady Broncos taking on North Sanpete. But San Juan shot down the Lady Hawks in four sets to advance to the semifinals for the second straight year.
And that’s when everyone watching the tournament could see the future and fate hunting the Lady Broncos. As San Juan was wrapping up their win over North Sanpete, their eventual semifinal opponent, Union, was embroiled in a life-and-death struggle with the Grand Red Devils.
It had gone to the fifth set, and Grand had the Lady Cougars pinned, leading 14-6 and serving match point.
For several minutes, all a viewer could do was sit with mouth agape as Union rattled off ten straight miraculous points to stun the Lady Red Devils and storm into the semifinals.
The Lady Cougars had lit a fire that eventually carried them straight through to a state championship. For San Juan, it was unfortunate that the pathway led directly through Union.
The top four teams according to the 2019 UHSAA RPI standings were the final four teams battling for the state championship.
Though they were ranked fourth, Union was far from an underdog in the semifinal matchup with #1 San Juan. The Lady Cougars were Region 14 champions with a perfect 12-0 record. They finished the regular season with an impressive 26-4 overall record.
San Juan knew it would be a fight to the death when the teams met. Sadly for the Lady Broncos, it was.
The entire match was a back-and-forth duel with the lead traded repeatedly. In the first set, San Juan fell behind 23-15. They battled back to within two points before Union scored to win 25-22.
The second set brought the only lopsided result of the match – a 25-15 win for Union. The Lady Broncos stormed back in set three taking the Lady Cougars to the wire.
San Juan served two set points, then Union served one before the Lady Broncos got a big ace from Ta’ssi Su’esu’e to take a 27-26 lead. They won the next ball to stave off elimination by the skin of their teeth.
In the fourth set, San Juan fell behind 6-1, but rallied to tie. Union built another lead, to 12-6, but San Juan climbed the ladder again to take their first lead of the set 14-13.
From that point the Lady Cougars took command, outscoring the Lady Broncos 12-6 to win the set and the match 25-20. The loss broke San Juan’s spirit, and when they met Region 12 rival Richfield in the third place game, their hearts were clearly not in it.
The team they had already beaten twice during the regular season swept them out of the tournament, 25-16, 25-20, and 25-16. It is San Juan’s second straight top four finish, but it is no consolation.
In the Lady Broncos’ defense, Union caught fire after their incredible comeback win over Grand and went on to capture their first state volleyball title in 43 years, knocking off four-time defending champion Morgan Lady Trojans. Understandably, that’s no consolation either.
The Lady Broncos will recover to be sure, but over the course of about an hour at UVU on October 30, the hopes and dreams of the 2019 San Juan volleyball team were crushed.
It’s especially bitter since five of the eight varsity players will not return next year due to graduation. But despite the tough conclusion, it was an excellent season, and players and coaches alike can hold their heads high.
Lady Broncos head coach Kelli Keyes expressed appreciation.
“I was very proud and honored to coach these girls,” she said. “My assistant coaches, Jana Rogers and Ally Anderson, were absolutely superb. It really was a great year.”