The last time Tooele High School’s volleyball team met Bear River, it was an epic, fiveset match that propelled the victorious Buffaloes into the state tournament for the first time in years.
Thursday, when they met again, it was a little less epic — and that was a good thing for Tooele. The Buffaloes came back from three separate five-point deficits to beat Bear River in straight sets 25-11, 25-23, 25-18, and to solidify their hold on third place in Region 11, behind Stansbury and top-ranked Morgan.
Twice in the second set and once in the third set, the Buffaloes were facing huge deficits. Each time a key play by Tooele and a big mistake by Bear River changed the momentum and brought the Buffaloes back into the game. After an easy 25-11 win in the first set behind four kills by sophomore Brin Stewart and three kills and two aces by junior Shaundra Olsen, the Lady Buffs came out a little flat in the second set. Bear River took control, jumping out to a 5-0 lead.
“They made an adjustment and moved their tallest player to Brin,” coach Kristi Brown said. “We had to make an adjustment and got the ball to Taylor [Thomas], who had a shorter player on her.” Thomas took advantage of the match-up with three kills in the set, all of which changed the momentum at important moments.
The first came with Tooele trailing 6-1 as the Buffaloes were trying to claw back into the game. The second was just after Tooele faced another 5-point deficit at 10-5.
The most important, however, came after Tooele had tied the game at 19 after some impressive serving by Stewart and Olsen (four points each).
Bear River once again wrestled control of the game and had scored two points in a row to eke out a 21-19 lead. Taylor put the ball down hard and pulled Tooele within a point. From there the momentum carried the Buffaloes to finish out the set on a 5-2 run and Tooele won the set 25-23. Tooele faced an even bigger deficit in the third set. After falling behind 2-0, the Lady Bears rolled off eight points in a row. Tooele was struggling and disorganized, making a couple of bad passes and running into the net twice.
Bear River’s freshman Stacey Peterson was serving and was on a roll when she inexplicably served the ball into the net. The Bear River mistake stopped their momentum and gave Tooele a much-needed chance to serve. Stewart and Thomas each had kills in the comeback and soon the score was tied at 12-12. From that point, Bear River imploded. The Lady Bears served into the net and were called for double hits while hitting up soft balls to the Buffs that Stewart was only too happy to pound back. Tooele’s 13-6 run closed out the match.
“We’ve been working on the mental part of the game,” Coach Brown said. “We’re working on becoming more sophisticated players. We make adjustments. We’ve developed an aggressive mentality.”
That aggressiveness has helped the team believe they can come back from any deficit. On Thursday, they proved it against Bear River.
Stewart finished with nine kills and four blocks and Thomas had six kills and nine digs. Junior libero Madison Gibson picked up 11 digs and junior Annie Dalton had four kills and four blocks for the victorious Buffaloes.
Tooele (4-4, 4-2 in Region 11) is home against Stansbury (8-8, 5-1) Thursday.