Park City volleyball aims to return to state title game despite jump to 5A
When Matt Carlson took over as coach of the Park City High School volleyball program five years ago, he knew immediately that a culture change was needed. So with the help of his staff, together they went about changing the way Park City volleyball was perceived.
“Culture is either by design or by default but for us, we knew the vision of Park City volleyball was to have really strong character-based athletes who were model citizens on and off the court,” Carlson said. “We wanted Park City to become a staple of what a good student athlete should be. … And over the years I really believe we’ve been able to do that and it’s part of what’s led us to be successful.”
Successful is an understatement for the Miners.
Park City won the Class 4A state championship two years ago before losing in the state title game last season to Sky View in a rematch. Last season, the Miners had two girls go to a Division I college on athletic scholarships: 6-foot-2 outside hitter Grace Wiczek to Dartmouth and 5-foot-9 setter/defensive specialist Emily Smith to the University of Utah.
“The semifinal match was an epic five-setter that was everything you’d ask for in drama and a win,” Carlson said. “But an hour later we had to turn it around for the finals match. … No excuses at all because we lost, but our girls were pooped and just emotionally spent. Our two stars were both gassed but gave it everything they had.”
After graduating nine seniors from last year’s squad, Park City will be relatively young for the upcoming season with only four seniors leading the way. But according to Carlson, the senior leadership year in and year out is what sets the Miners apart.
“What makes Park City unique compared to other programs is we may not have the most physical or talented athletes, but what we are is we have this incredible senior leadership every year,” Carlson said. “We have this culture where kids just get better and work harder. It just perpetuates itself into this kind of juggernaut where we are able to compete with the top teams in the state.”
Despite his team’s youth, Carlson believes this squad is deeper and overall more talented than the Miners have been in the past. Rather than relying on just two players, Carlson said he has four or five girls who can break out and be reliable contributors.
Park City will likely need that depth considering its jumping up to Class 5A, a more competitive division where a multitude of teams are capable of winning the state title.
“5A is unique because it’s a little more deep, but we feel confident that we still know the competition inside and out,” Carlson said. “I think personally there’s about eight or nine teams that can beat each other at any time and win the state championship. … And I believe we are one of them.”
With the jump up, Carlson knows that much more is expected of him and his girls, so practices have been different.
The attention to detail is even greater because to compete at this level, the Miners will have to be that much more focused and refined. Also reinforcing Carlson’s belief in his squad is something he’s never seen before at PCHS.
“Our focus is always about getting better 1% each day because we have to serve tougher, got to hit higher and harder and have better ball control,” Carlson said. “What’s really cool about this team and is unique to them is that these girls are a lot more hungry than I’ve ever seen. There’s a lot more family feel and grit to this season because the senior leadership makes it this way.”
Senior Izzy Sandston and junior Hayden Goodman will lead the Miners in their inaugural Region 8 season.
Sandston is a 5-foot-11 middle blocker who shows great footwork and length to dominate in the middle, Carlson said. Goodman transferred to Park City for the season so she’s still learning the Miners’ culture, but she has all the intangibles to be special.
“She’s an absolute force in the middle for us and has a very bright future ahead of her,” Carlson said of Goodman.
The Miners began their season Thursday night against Maple Mountain, which entered the match having already played eight games.
Park City hosts its 2019 home-opener on Thursday at 6 p.m. against Spanish Fork.
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Park City plays in the toughest region in 5A, and coach Purcell believes that mental toughness will help turn the season around.