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Sandy Journal

A long time coming: Alta boys get chance to shine on volleyball court

Apr 09, 2024 04:00PM ● By Josh McFadden

The Alta boys volleyball team has been excited to play in the school's first year as a sanctioned team. (Photo courtesy of Casie Maekawa.)

For years, high schools around the state, including Alta, have formed boys volleyball clubs. But the boys have never had the chance to participate on an official team or play for Utah High School Activities Association-recognized state championships. 

Until now. 

The UHSAA sanctioned boys volleyball, paving the way for the sport to be official and start this spring. Alta head coach Casie Maekawa said the boys are thrilled to belong to the school’s first-ever boys volleyball team. 

“Our boys are so excited,” she said. “There are a lot of boys who have been waiting a long time for this to happen. There’s something really special about representing Alta High School and being a part of something greater than themselves. What I love most about coaching this team is their excitement for the game. The kids love to be out here playing for Alta High School. A lot of our starters play club volleyball in the offseason, but it’s exciting to see kids playing with their classmates and being a team in the halls of the school.”

Maekawa said she was worried initially that not many boys would come out for the team when tryouts were held in late winter. However, 60 hopeful players showed up, allowing Maekawa and her staff to put together three teams. She noticed right off the bat that the players had positive attitudes and were looking forward to learning. 

“Our coaching staff was stoked about the turnout we had for boys volleyball,” she said. 

“I think that this year we’ve got a good bunch of guys. Our guys have a lot to learn, but they are coachable, willing to learn and eager to get better. It’s going to be a fun season.”

In the early part of the season, Alta went 3-5 and won two of its first three Region 6 games. The Hawks opened league play with a 3-0 sweep of Highland on March 14. Following a 3-0 loss at home to Skyline on March 21, Alta defeated East 3-0 on the road on March 26. 

“Our team has been really competitive,” Maekawa said. “We’ve played some really exciting games against some really good teams. We learned a lot about our team in the preseason.”

Maekawa doesn’t have a certain number of wins she expects her team to have, nor does she talk about how far she sees this team going in the playoffs. Her objectives are about enjoying the game and for the players to do their best each day in practice and in matches. 

“My No. 1 expectation for this team and program is that we have fun and we compete day in and day out,” she said. “That’s what high school sports are all about. It’s fun to compete, and we compete best when we’re having fun.”

The Hawks have some improvements to make, which shouldn’t be a surprise for any team, considering this is the first year for the sport. Maekawa wants to see her team get better with attacking and putting the ball down. Though the Hawks have talented hitters, she is hoping the players grow more confident with their hitting. 

There hasn’t been anything wrong the team’s effort so far.

“Our team is competitive, and they love to go out and battle every night,” Maekawa said. “We’ve played a lot of talented teams in the preseason, and we’ve battled with all of them. Every game has been a hard-fought match, and they walk away every night knowing they left it all on the court.”

Though Alta lost five of its first eight matches, only one of those matches was a sweep. The Hawks took two opponents to five sets before falling. 

Alta has a good mix of experienced players who have played volleyball as their primary sport for years along with other team members who are new to the sport. Those newcomers, however, are athletic and have shown a lot of promise, Maekawa said. 

“This year, the goal is for our team to get better every day,” she said. “One of the most exciting things about boys volleyball is that there are a lot of kids who have played volleyball as their full-time sport and also a lot of athletic kids who have never played volleyball before. In order for this season to be a success, we’re going to have to grow our team and integrate new parts into this team and its chemistry. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

There is no shortage of talented players on the Hawks’ roster. Maekawa loves the play from junior YiKang Li, who plays the opposite position. Middle blockers Matt McKea and Kaleb Puikkonen, both juniors, are forces on the court. Plus, setter Jameson Biggs, a junior, is a good passer.

“[Li] has been a great attacker for us,” Maekawa said. “[McKea] and [Puikkonen] have done a great job attacking and blocking in the middle. [Biggs] works hard to distribute the ball for us. We’re excited about what we’ve got in the gym.”

Alta competes in Region 6, which has some stiff competition. Though the opposition is formidable, Maekawa welcomes the opportunity of playing these teams. 

“We’re super lucky to be playing in Region 6,” she said. “Region 6 is competitive. We get to play some really talented teams and see some really great players. It’s going to be a battle every night, and we’re excited about it.”

Alta faces its six region opponents twice apiece. The final regular-season match is May 7 at Brighton. The first-ever Class 5A state boys volleyball tournament starts May 14. λ