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As one of the few returning players who saw significant action for the Desert Hills volleyball team last year, Blair Bliss knew at the beginning of the season that it was her responsibility to change the team culture.

By the time the season was over, Bliss and her teammates had turned the Thunder into a cohesive unit, and the result was a Class 3A state championship.

"In the past few years, we've had great teams, but the chemistry was not good at all," Bliss said. "So we knew this year that chemistry is one of the biggest things in a team sport."

Desert Hills' transformation was not immediate. It took time for the team to jell, but coach Jill Swaney was vocal along the way about her belief that the Thunder had something special. Bliss eventually bought in and used her role as a leader to help inspire the team.

"She never doubted us," Bliss said. "Once I saw her believe in us, I started believing in our team and knew we could do it. ... I knew I needed to lead by example. I had to not ever get down and be a leader on the court."

Bliss also led with her play. The junior outside hitter was the key component in the Thunder winning Region 9 and their march through the state playoffs, which ended with a win over rival Snow Canyon in the title match. She finished with a match-high 21 kills in the state championship.

"It's just so amazing, winning that state game and working so hard all season with my team," said Bliss, who added 14 digs and a service ace in the title match. "When all the hard work paid off, it was such a relief."

Bliss, who only is a junior, knows her ride with the Thunder is not finished.

She's eager to get the opportunity to lead the Thunder to the school's second state championship.

"We have great younger girls coming up, and our JV is such a strong team," Bliss said. "I think we're going to be better next year because we have experience."

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