Park City High School’s gymnasium, affectionately known as The Shaft, has been a house of horrors for visiting volleyball teams over the years, thanks to the dominance of the Miners.
Tooele was Park City’s latest victim on Tuesday night, though it wasn’t for a lack of effort on the Buffaloes’ part. They gave the Miners all they could handle for three sets before ultimately falling 25-18, 25-14, 25-21 to last year’s Class 4A state champions.
“That’s how you learn — playing games like this against teams like (Park City),” Tooele coach Kristi Brown said. “They’re a good team and a good program, and you want to play matches like this because this is the only way you get better.”
Tooele (6-9, 4-5 Region 11) hung tough for most of the opening set. The Buffs trailed just 10-8 after an ace by Brinley Smith and a kill by Sadee Simmons, and back-to-back blocks by Simmons and Sesi Latu had the Buffs within striking distance at 17-15. But Park City (13-4, 8-0) showed why it’s a contender for another state title, as sophomore Brooklyn Sapp ripped off three service aces during a six-point run for the Miners to extend the lead to 23-15.
As strong as the first set was for Tooele, the second set was disastrous. Park City senior Grace Wiczek terrorized the Buffs at the net with kill after kill, allowing the Miners to race out to an 11-3 lead. Tooele didn’t break double-figures until Park City sat just two points from ending the set.
“In the second set, the mentality definitely affected us,” Brown said. “It looked like we didn’t know quite what we were doing at the time. Coaching youth sports, you’re going to run into that, and you hope that you don’t repeat it.”
The Buffs responded with an impressive start to the third set, taking an early 11-8 lead behind Julia Smith, Gracee Dalton and Latu. In fact, Tooele still had the lead at 15-14, and a couple kills by Latu and Brinley Smith had the Buffaloes within a point at 20-19. But just when it appeared that the Buffs would be the rare team to escape The Shaft with a set victory, Park City won the next four points to regain control.
“We just came off a tournament weekend, so we tried some new things, flipped some positions around,” Brown said. “You come up against the reigning state champions and you know it’s going to be a tough battle. We were hoping to get a set and we were close a couple times.”
Latu had five kills, one block and five digs. Simmons had four kills, four blocks and 10 digs, Brinley Smith had four blocks, Chandra Haskell had four digs and Julia Smith had three digs and three kills on a night when she had no hitting errors.
“I pulled them aside a couple times and told them, ‘we’ve got to hit,’” Brown said. “They started trying to be tricky rather than being aggressive.”
Tooele faced Stansbury at home in the latest installment of the rivalry between the Tooele County schools on Thursday night. The match was not complete at press time. The Buffs will hit the road Oct. 11 against Juan Diego before wrapping up the regular season Oct. 16 at home against Bonneville.