OREM -- The bitterness of losing lasted for a full year. But the sweet taste of victory will last for a lifetime.
On Thursday afternoon in the state 1-A championship at Utah Valley University, the St. Joseph Catholic Jayhawks finally reached the pinnacle of volleyball, capturing its first-ever state title with a four-set win over the Piute Thunderbirds, 25-11, 25-9, 19-25, 25-12. It was not only the school's first championship, but the first for Ray Franklin, who has been the Jayhawks' coach for 17 years.
It was meant to be, of course. In the past three years, the Jayhawks finished fourth, third and second in state. So it was only right that they ended on top.
"These girls deserve every bit of this," Franklin said. "They've been working unbelievably hard. I'm just so proud of them. It's kind of surreal right now."
"Losing last year has honestly motivated us more than anything," senior Jessica Bischoff said. "We worked so hard last year and I think we kind of assumed we would win (the championship). And when we didn't, I think that was just the worst feeling, knowing we worked so hard and threw it away. So everything we did this year was training for state."
Apart from a Game 3 anomaly, the Jayhawks obliterated the Thunderbirds. In each of the first two games, they raced out to 7-1 leads. In Game 4, they were even better, charging out to a 9-0 lead. Emily Jackson served three straight aces to start the final set.
"Praise Emily!" senior outside hitter Britt Sederholm said. "She's just amazing. Her serves were like bullets."
When the ball hit the floor on the Piute side of the net to give St. Joseph the victory in Game 4, Sederholm burst into tears.
"We've been talking about it actually," Sederholm said. "Right before the game started we wondered what our reactions would be if we won. Everyone was saying, 'I'm gonna bawl,' but I didn't think I'd cry because I'd be so hyped up. But no, I bawled. I'm just so happy. And to finish with these girls is what makes it so great."
As the Jayhawks' finally ended the championship drought, so ended Sederholm's brilliant high school career. The senior concluded her season in style, recording a match-high 24 kills to go along with four digs and a pair of service aces. Asked if Sederholm was the best player in 1-A this season, Franklin said simply, "I didn't see anyone better."
But make no mistake, this team was not Britt Sederholm and the Afterthoughts. Every player had a key role throughout the season.
"I'd honestly be nothing without my teammates," Sederholm said, tearing up as she spoke. "This is a team and not just one player."
"You know what was perfect about this game is Danielle Shinaut," Franklin said. "She's what we call our seventh man. She's so crucial at blocking and she hardly ever gets any kind of recognition. So to have the state championship end with her making that last kill was unbelievable."
St. Joseph's Audra Thurston played her best game of the tournament with eight solo blocks and four kills. Bischoff finished with nine kills, two digs and an ace and Shinaut had five kills and two digs.
Jackson also played well. So well that assistant coach Cindy White said it was the best she's seen Jackson play in the 10 years she's been coaching her. The senior setter finished with 26 set assists, eight digs and half a dozen aces.
Defensively, Mady White -- unquestionably the best libero in 1-A -- had five set assists and 14 digs, including some of the most impressive saves to keep a rally going that you'll ever see.
"I couldn't do it without my team," Mady White said. "It feels so great. Just to know that I helped all these seniors accomplish a state championship in their last year of St. Joseph volleyball just feels great. And we're all a family. We just know that we can count on each other."
Rounding out the scoring for St. Joseph was sophomore Tess Thurston with three solo blocks and senior Bailey Pacheco, who had eight set assists and four digs.
In addition to being happy for themselves, the Jayhawks were pleased to win one for Franklin, the team's motivator and biggest cheerleader.
" 'Frankie' means so much to me," Sederholm said. "When I came to St. Joe's, I had kind of lost my passion for volleyball. I was on a club team and I wasn't getting along very well with my coach and we didn't have a very good season. But when I came here, (Franklin) brought my passion back. I wouldn't be where I am today without him and Cindy. I'm just so happy we could win for him. He needed a state championship."
Earlier in the day, the Jayhawks earned a trip to the finals thanks to a three-set semifinal round win over Panguitch, the top seed out of Region 20. In that match, Sederholm finished with 23 kills, while Bischoff added eight kills and three aces. Jackson contributed 25 set assists and four aces and Audra Thurston had seven kills and a solo block. White led the Jayhawks with seven digs.
* Sky View def. Roy 25-10, 25-8, 25-20: At Roy, the defending state 4-A champion Bobcats are 23-4-2 overall, 12-0 in league. The last-place Royals finished at 1-14, 0-12.
* Logan def. Ogden 17-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-13, 15-7: At Logan, the Tigers' Chloe Oki had eight kills, three block assists, 12 digs, two aces and six service points; Tori Brown had three kills, seven block assists, three aces and four service points; Ali Patrolia had six digs and seven service points; and setter Clara Call had 15 assists, two kills, seven digs and two service points for Ogden (5-29, 2-10).
The Grizzlies finished 5-7 in league play, but didn't qualify for next week's 4-A tournament.
* Bountiful def. Clearfield 25-12, 25-18, 25-18: At Bountiful, the Braves got a season sweep of the Falcons (18-13, 8-6).
Standard-Examiner reporter Dennis Larsen contributed to this report.