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Prep volleyball: North Summit eyes state title with star hitter back healthy

Published October 25, 2016 5:36 pm

Volleyball • The Braves came up just short last year.
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The teams were the same, the site was the same, and it was even the same court when North Summit and Panguitch met up at the Richfield volleyball tournament a couple of weeks ago.

The big difference this time was North Summit junior Hunter Vernon was able to walk off the court unassisted. And that's a big deal for Vernon, her family and North Summit's chances at this year's Class 2A state tournament.

"I had the hardest time at the Panguitch game this year. I had a panic attack that hit down in Richfield," Lonnie Vernon, Hunter's mom, said of the game on Oct. 8. "But we got through it."

What happened a year ago didn't go as well for the Vernons or the North Summit Braves. In the opening moments of the second set, as Hunter Vernon recalls, her left knee went from active and vibrant to injured in an instant.

The injuries were more than extensive: a torn ACL and torn meniscus leading the way.

"When it first happened, I felt an initial pop in my knee when I went down," Hunter Vernon said. "I was kind of shocked at first and then the pain kind of set in.

"My older sister [Katie] actually had the same thing happen to her, so that's what came to my mind," she added. "It was, 'Oh no, I blew my knee out. What am I going to do?' And that's when the tears started coming."

With the 2015 state tourney around the corner then, there was nothing Hunter Vernon could do to help.

The Braves, with a good set of players and another hard hitter in Ashlin Blonquist, still fought their way to the semifinals before a five-game loss to Enterprise. Had Vernon been in the lineup, it's reasonable to think that North Summit could well have contended for the first-place trophy earned by Delta.

"I definitely would've like to have that one back," North Summit coach Samantha Stephens said. "I mean, you never know what was going to happen, but we did end up third without her."

For this year's Class 2A state tourney, North Summit is the top-ranked team and will open its draw against Millard on Friday afternoon.

The opening round and quarterfinals for both 2A and Class 1A will happen Friday at Utah Valley University, with the semifinals and championships on Saturday.

Class 3A will kick off this week's state volleyball tournament action in Orem on Wednesday, with its semis and title match on Thursday.

Vernon's knee isn't quite at 100 percent yet. But only a year after the blowout, Vernon has 321 kills in her junior season for the Braves.

Her road to recovery actually began full-fledged in the summer with beach volleyball. From their Coalville home, the Vernons would drive Hunter to a club volleyball team in Park City to get the knee some activity on a softer surface than hard courts.

"Her beach volleyball was very limited, but what she did do — I'm a big promoter that it's great conditioning," Lonnie Vernon said. "She had to do it in her brace, it trashed her brace, but I think it really helped."

She's got a new brace now, and Hunter Vernon supplements the equipment with a regimen of continued physical therapy — with the help of local trainers that her mother credits with the recuperation.

"I have a physical therapist that's been stretching with me the last couple of weeks to get it ready for state," Hunter said. "I've hit the year mark after my surgery and it's feeling really strong."

"She's very motivated herself to make sure she stays in shape," Stephens said. "Even after practice, she'll lift weights and do stretch-training on her own."

It may be enough to produce a different outcome this year. —

Tournament previews

Class 3A • Morgan will be entering the state tournament just a notch or two below where they were in 2015, when the Trojans ended up undefeated and nationally ranked. But Morgan may very well run the 3A postseason table again in search of a second straight title, as senior middle hitter Anna Cox, along with outsides Baylee Loertscher and Brookelyn Hurlbut, lead the way. Second-ranked Desert Hills figures to provide the toughest hurdle for the Trojans, as the presence of seniors Rachel Winters (6-foot-2) and Charity Bradley (6-4) means the Thunder almost always have a tall hitter on the front row. North Sanpete, led by hitters Madisyn Allred and Shelby Ison, and Park City, paced by sophomore Grace Wiczek, both cruised to region titles and have momentum going into state.

Final 3A regular season rankings • 1. Morgan (23-3); 2. Desert Hills (19-7); 3. North Sanpete (24-3); 4. Park City (20-9); 5. Dixie (11-7).

Class 2A • It would be tempting to pencil in someone from Region 13 as the eventual champ, as league members have won the last three 2A titles (Delta last year, and Enterprise in '13 and '14). But North Summit, led by senior middle Ashlin Blonquist and junior outside Hunter Vernon, makes it difficult to come to that kind of quick conclusion, as the Braves' three losses all came to 3A opponents. Enterprise did finish 10-0 in its region, and the Wolves are paced by junior Jaslyn Gardner, who pounded 354 kills in the regular season. Defending champ Delta, paced by senior Tatum Stanworth's 203 kills, have steadily improved with a new core, and San Juan also raced through its region undefeated.

Final 2A regular season rankings • 1. North Summit (27-3); 2. Enterprise (25-6); 3. Delta (13-13); 4. San Juan (18-12); 5. South Summit (13-11).

Class 1A • Panguitch is searching for its third straight championship in 1A and the Bobcats are full of young blood. Freshman Taylia Norris led the 'Cats with 189 kills while junior Jordan Bennett (170 kills), sophomore McCall Tebbs (156) and sophomore Abbey Blevins (155) also were regular attack leaders. Monticello coach Tony Esplin is hoping his Buckaroos can improve just one step better from 2015 - when they lost to Panguitch in the finals. Always-tough Rich is paced by Julia Hopkin and Ashley Groll, who respectively slammed 391 and 274 kills while Piute hopes to avenge regular season losses to region-rival Panguitch. Intermountain Christian, with state kill-leader Audrey Green and her 402 regular season putaways, will have a chance to prove it belongs with the big boys of small-school volleyball.

Final 1A regular season rankings • 1. Panguitch (21-3); 2. Monticello (27-3); 3. Rich (22-4); 4. Piute (14-4); 5. Intermountain Christian (24-3).

Class 3A schedule

At UCCU Center, Orem


First round

• Juan Diego vs. Richfield, 4 p.m.

• Desert Hills vs. Tooele, 4 p.m.

• Park City vs. Snow Canyon, 4 p.m.

• Juab vs. Ridgeline, 4 p.m.

• Union vs. Pine View, 5:30 p.m.

• North Sanpete vs. Logan, 5:30 p.m.

• Morgan vs. Canyon View, 5:30 p.m.

• Dixie vs. Stansbury, 5:30 p.m.


• Juan Diego/Richfield vs. Desert Hills/Tooele, 7 p.m.

• Park City/Snow Canyon vs. Juab/Ridgeline, 7 p.m.

• Union/Pine View vs. North Sanpete/Logan, 8:30 p.m.

• Morgan/Canyon View vs. Dixie vs. Stansbury, 8:30 p.m.






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