PLAIN CITY — For a couple minutes after losing the first set, Fremont volleyball players spoke amongst themselves on the team bench, discussing where they needed to improve before going back out for set No. 2 against West Jordan.
"The girls said, we know what we need to do so let's go and do it. So they took over," Fremont coach Alise Bowles said.
"We play way better when we have energy and we're having fun, and that's what we needed to focus on," Fremont sophomore Maggie Mendelson said.
If the ensuing three sets were a result of that talk, it might be a new back-pocket strategy should the No. 4 Silverwolves (22-3) fall behind 1-0 in the future.
They came back to beat No. 5 West Jordan in four sets in Thursday night's 6A state tournament quarterfinals 21-25, 25-16, 25-16, 25-15 to advance to Thursday's semifinal at Hillcrest High, where they'll face No. 1 Lone Peak.
It's not to say Fremont played poorly in the first set, rather, the unbeaten Jaguars had multiple players who could hit well enough to score points from the back row — something Fremont didn’t see in region play.
The Silverwolves were step-for-step in the first set with WJ until the Jags won three-straight points to close out the set.
Fremont miscommunicated a handful of times and let the ball drop on the floor — a symptom of nerves, according to Mendelson — and also were surprised by a couple of innocent-looking free balls that floated over the net.
Then they took off. Before the match, Bowles wanted the players to have fun and remember the feeling of when they were younger and first started to love volleyball.
"When you stop focusing on the fun of it and you start focusing on the winning side, ironically enough, the play of any athlete goes down because they're more worried about the win rather than just having fun and enjoying the sport," Bowles said.
The Silverwolves went on a 10-1 run early in the second set to take a 13-4 lead, buoyed by good serving from Whitley Surrage and a handful of unforced WJ errors.
Hoku Sagapolu's tip found the floor after a hectic point where the Jaguars twice scrambled and saved big Fremont hits. A big hit from Mendelson closed out the set 25-16.
In the third set, the Silverwolves trailed 5-2, then went on an 11-1 run that included the loudest cheer of the night. Leading 12-6 and scrambling, Rylie Merrill dove and swung with her right arm to save the ball from hitting the floor.
The ball went over and WJ soon hit it out, prompting a huge cheer and a Jaguars timeout. Bowles ran on the floor to high-five Merrill.
Mendelson had the last touch of the ball for the final five points of the third set: a big kill, a miss into the net, a crosscourt kill from the right side, a down-the-line kill into the back left corner and a block that found the floor to clinch the set.
Sometimes it looked like Mendelson was winning points singlehandedly, what with the ferocity that the ball hit the floor sometimes, though Thursday night her and setter Ayva Cebollero were on the same wavelength.
Several times, Cebollero flat-out set the ball on a tee and Mendelson got a good run-up to it, which only helped even more.
"We got this far, we're here for each other and we know we can't do it by ourselves," Mendelson said.
By then there was no big run required to take or turn around a lead: Fremont blasted out of the gates in the fourth, going ahead 7-2, 15-4 and eventually winning 25-15.
Now the Silverwolves face No. 1 Lone Peak (27-2), widely regarded as the best team in the state this year, at 1 p.m. Friday at Hillcrest High in Midvale (the 6A state semifinals and finals were moved to Hillcrest from Salt Lake Community College this week).
Pleasant Grove decisively swept Fremont in last year's semifinals, then LP beat the Silverwolves in four sets in the third-place match.
"Last year, we got really stuck up in our emotions and this year we know if we stick together and persevere through everything, we'll be fine," Mendelson said.