It takes enormous pressure to turn a piece of coal into a diamond.
Fortunately for Rowland Hall, the Winged Lions are adept at dealing with that pressure.
Captains Kiersten Cutler, Ikwo Frank and Shelby Matsumura never faced more pressure than the beginning of their sophomore year when they learned there weren't any returning players on the volleyball squad. Between graduation and players choosing not to return, the core three were forced into captaining a varsity team they didn't feel ready to lead.
"It was shocking to learn I'd be playing varsity," Matsumura said. "We decided that we needed to focus on our resilience and play our kind of game."
The captains quickly grew up and adapted to the challenges. They led by example by practicing hard and setting an example for the other players to follow. They helped build a program whose balance of confidence, chemistry and ability has secured them a spot in the 2A state tournament.
"This is a fantastic group of young ladies," Rowland Hall coach Kendra Tomsic said. "Entering into their senior year, I honestly believe that they have finally come into their own."
Rowland Hall compiled a 7-3 record to finish second in regional play and enter the state tournament at 16-7. Tomsic believes this is the best team she has coached in her 35 years because it relies on tough service, intelligent players and defensive prowess to win close matches.
"We create a lot of offense from our defense," Cutler said. "We play with a lot of confidence and play each game with the right mindset."
Tomsic gives her team a quote to consider before each practice and match in an attempt to focus her players.
"My favorite quote was, 'Your own worst enemy is between your ears,' " Frank said. "We have what it takes to beat other teams when we focus on each other and not them."
Rowland Hall plays Beaver in the first round of the state championship today. It will be bittersweet at the end of the tournament for the close-knit group of players.
"This is the end of our three-year journey, our last chance to do this together," Matsumura said. "We're going to make it count."
In addition to playing volleyball, middle blocker Kiersten Cutler plays the violin and wants to purse a music degree at the University of Utah.
Setter Shelby Matsumura plans to attend Emerson College. Her sister, Sara, has started as a freshman on the team.
Ikwo Frank was born in Nigeria. The setter plans to pursue a sports medicine degree in Maryland.