The Tooele Lady Buffaloes finished the preseason undefeated as they now prepare for the region schedule that starts Thursday.
The Lady Buffs cruised to a 3-0 win against the Payson Lions Thursday 25-13, 25-22, 25-12. They even played without one of their usual starters, Annie Dalton, who was away for one game to attend a youth leadership conference that several students from the area had the opportunity to attend.
The Lady Buffs didn’t miss a beat and even got a chance to see their starters play in different positions. This gave head coach Kristi Brown even more confidence in her players with the region season on the cusp.
“We actually got to run a completely different lineup than we have all season,” Brown said. “It’s comforting to know we can go into a game, change the lineup, put girls in different positions … that just shows how versatile we are, how strong we are right now that we can mix some players up and still get the job done.”
And the Lady Buffs certainly got the job done with an explosive opening set. Payson hung around after opening with a 7-4 lead, but then it was all Lady Buffs from that point. After bouncing back to things at 7-7, outside hitter Brin Stewart belted down a kill to give Tooele the lead. Outside hitter Shaundra Olson then delivered a serve that deflected off a Payson player for a 9-7 lead.
The momentum rolled: Setter Kassidie Russell tapped the ball over for a point, middle blocker Sydnee Simmons and Amber Haskell combined for a block, Simmons put down a kill, Stewart aced a serve, Simmons had another kill, Simmons and Russell put up their hands for a block, and suddenly the Lady Buffs led 20-8. Simmons had another kill in the set, and Taylor Thomas’ block scored the final point for the 25-13 win.
Each set had a different Lady Buff star, and in the second set it was Stewart who played the hero and kept the Lady Buffs from falling too far behind. Payson opened with a 3-1 lead, and Stewart put together three kills over the next few serves to keep Tooele in front at an 8-5. Stewart then scorched the Lions with four straight points. She smacked a kill, and then put together two straight points while serving. She then capped her scoring streak with an ace that gave Tooele a 9-8 lead.
The two teams went back and forth, including two kills from Thomas — a soft tap that landed in a hole in Payson’s defense, and a hard kill that landed on the back line — that gave Tooele a 13-12 lead. Olson scored a kill, followed by a point and two kills by Stewart, before Payson made one last push to try and win the set.
The Lions took a 19-18 lead, and Simmons softly tapped the ball over to tie the set at 19. Payson then scored, but then hit the ball out on its serve to bring Tooele back into a tie. A hit into the net gave Tooele a 21-20 lead, and a hit out-of-bounds by the Lions put the Lady Buffs ahead by 2. The Lions had two net violations before Tooele finally led 24-22. Stewart pounded the ball into a Lion, and it deflected away to give the Lady Buffs the 25-22 win.
The third set lacked any drama, as the Lions tied the set at 4, but never got any closer than that. Tooele extended its lead to 17-10 at one point on a block from Thomas, and the team eventually wrapped it up on points from Thomas, Olson and Stewart for the 25-12 win.
“Our confidence is riding really high now,” Brown said. “I think that we’re doing well, but we’re still learning things as we go. We don’t take every win for granted. We know there are things that happen within the match that we constantly need to work on to get more consistency, and then we go back to practice and take those items and keep working on them.”
But it’s not stopping Brown from enjoying the great start or noticing the stellar play from her players. Simmons and Stewart both had jaw-dropping kills in the Payson game, and Brown was quick to praise them.
She talked about how Stewart plays volleyball year-round, and that work in the offseason has translated onto the court for the Lady Buffs. She then talked about how Simmons continues to learn and grow as a sophomore, and that she’ll only get better as the years go along.
The Lady Buffs open the region season on the road Thursday against Ben Lomond.