Thrill of victory: Miners reach summit with first-ever state championship
As season’s nutrition restrictions cease, team tastes sweet victory
October 27, 2017
As soon as the scoreboard at the Utah Community Credit Union event center at Utah Valley University illuminated 25-21, a seasons-long dream was realized. The Park City Miners volleyball team dogpiled, in a shrieking, crying heap of joy. The bench flooded the court. They had beaten Sky View High School in straight sets – 25-23, 25-21, 25-21 – to win the Class 4A state championship.
As they slowly got up, hugged their teammates, and started addressing the media, one player after another mentioned the hard work they had put in this season.
"It was a grind, and it paid off," junior outside hitter Grace Wiczek said. "All the hard work, all the blood sweat and tears has finally paid off. Losing last year in the semifinals and coming back and taking state in straight sets, it's remarkable, and I'm so happy."
It was a journey that started with a tough loss last year, then a soul-searching run up PC Hill to begin this season. On top of the hill looking over Park City and their school, the team decided they would settle for nothing less than winning a state championship.
"That's the seed that was planted which we get to reap the benefit of now, three months later," Carlson said.
From that moment, sophomore Izzy Sanston said the team was fixated on its goal.
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"We discussed that this was going to be our goal from the very first run up PC Hill, the very first bus ride, every single game it's been state," she said.
Senior Bella Buchanan said state was "all (the team) wanted."
"We talked about it all last year and this year it was our main goal," she said. "We knew we could win region and we knew we could do well in this, but state was always the pinnacle of our season. It was all we could have hoped for, and it was everything it was built up to be and more."
But between that first run up PC Hill and the dogpile in Orem, there was a lot of practice, hard work and sacrifice.
"We beat them up pretty bad," head coach Matthew Carlson said after the state championship. "These girls are working out every day. I don't let them have any sugar, they follow a strict nutrition program. Our practices are brutal."
He said that daily grind was the toughest part of the season.
"Day in, day out, they have homework, lack of sleep, they're tired and they don't want to go practice," he said.
Buchanan said being on the team entailed countless hours in the weight room, or running.
"They helped us in every way get to here, but they were the hardest part, which is also the best part," she said.
After two losses to teams in higher classifications, things started to click for the Miners as they entered the heart of their schedule. They defeated Juan Diego in straight sets to start region play, then swept Bonneville, Ogden and Ben Lomond.
They dropped only one set over the entire Region 11 season.
Then came the state tournament, starting on Oct. 25, when the Miners faced Pine View and defeated the fourth-ranked Region 9 team as they had their other opponents. That night, they beat Green Canyon, the third ranked team in Region 12, – 25-21, 25-21, 25-13.
In the semifinals the next day, Desert Hills won the first set 25-20, but the Miners won the next three to advance to the finals.
Then came the championships. On Thursday night, the Miners strolled through a bank of artificial fog while spotlights wandered over them as they took the court against the Sky View Bobcats for their late-night game.
The first set was a battle.
Sky View, Region 12's champion, took the lead early. The Miners tied them at nine points, then a couple kills from Wiczek gave the Miners the lead.
The Bobcats regained the lead, but the Miners outlasted them and won 25-23.
After such a hard-fought first set, Carlson said, he knew the Miners were going to win.
"That first set could have gone either way," he said. "And after we got the first set, the girls knew it too. … When they won that first set I think they had a lot of confidence going into the second, which I think was a big help."
The Miners took control early in the second set. The Bobcats staged a comeback and earned five points in a row, but couldn't keep Park City from closing to win 25-21.
The third set went similarly, with the Miners leading early and the Bobcats rallying to try and close the gap late. But it wasn't enough to stop the Miners from winning in straight sets again.
While Sandston's team held the 4A state trophy aloft for a throng of smartphone-wielding parents, she reflected on what the team had accomplished.
"This is Park City history and to be a part of that, I'm still comprehending," she said. "I'm so glad that we came that we worked as hard as we have this season."
With their goal accomplished, the team celebrated by indulging in something they hadn't had in months: ice cream.
As the team made their way out to the bus, Wiczek, who was one of the first to vocalize this season's state ambitions on PC Hill, already had her flavor picked out.
"Mint," she said. "Mint chocolate chip."