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The City Journals

Corner Canyon boys volleyball makes it to the top

Jul 29, 2020 11:38AM ● By Catherine Garrett

By Catherine Garrett | [email protected]

Don’t tell the Corner Canyon boys volleyball team that the end-of-the-season tournament they won wasn’t the official Utah Boys Volleyball Association state tournament. 

It certainly was to them, and they finally defeated three-time state champion Bingham—in the semifinals— before defeating Olympus in the championship match to come out on top of the eight-team “Kick the COVID” Tournament June 12-13 at Sport City in Draper.

Corner Canyon defeated every opponent in straight sets during the two-day tournament. The Chargers were first in their pool heading into the championship round. It was in the semifinals that they came up against powerhouse Bingham.

“In typical fashion, our match with Bingham was really close and in the past we have buckled after losing a tight first set and fold in the second,” CCHS assistant coach Dan Penrod said. “As this match was underway, it felt like the same story was playing out but our guys found a way to beat them. After the match, our players were asking, ‘Who’s Bingham?’ It felt so good for the guys to get the monkey off their back.”

Outside hitter and co-captain Gavin Penrod said, “The fact that most of our team was seniors this year, making it our last opportunity to win really pushed us to work hard. On top of that it was also [opposite hitter] Jack’s [Nielsen’ 18th] birthday so we had to win.”

In the championship match, Corner Canyon defeated Olympus 25-18, 25-16 behind Nielsen’s 12 kills and a combined 12 kills from Gavin Penrod and outside hitter TJ Burns. Setter Zane Minnick recorded 28 assists in running the offense while Ty Pace led defensively with six digs.

“Winning was the biggest relief of 2020,” Minnick said. “I was super proud of my team because, unlike past years, we wanted it the most. We worked hard before COVID-19 and even harder during the two-week practice period before the tournament. It was awesome to end my volleyball career by winning it all.” 

The tournament came about when coaches, parents and players reached out to Club GSL founder and owner Warren Van Schalkwyk about their desire to still have a tournament of some sort to help salvage their shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic which shut everything down in March.

“I decided to try and do something about their itch to play so once the health protocols were somewhat lifted, I was able to secure some court space and then sent some information out to a handful of people,” Van Schalkwyk said. 

Within two days, eight varsity and four junior varsity teams were signed up to play in the tournament.

“Typically, the UBVA hosts a state tournament with the top 16 teams to get the very best of the best,” Van Schalkwyk said. “With only a two-week season, we were unable to determine that, but we did our best to give the boys a chance to play.”

First-year head coach Ben Braga said he saw talent, motivation, enthusiasm and passion right away in his guys as practices and the season began this year. “Their desire to go beyond was very clear,” he said. “The shutdown hit them pretty bad. Most of them were seniors and they got very frustrated with the possibility of not playing their last high school season. When we found out about being able to eventually play, we had two weeks to prepare. Luckily, the boys were ready and we could focus on game situation and strategies only.”

Also on this year’s varsity team were Blake Rupp, Anthony Vranes, Keegan Rappleye and Rylan Featherstone.

Braga came in with the “challenge” to help the Chargers finally beat Bingham. “During the tournament, I realized we were going to win when I saw their determination and desire to put all in that court and play their best,” Braga said. “The keys to winning were dedication, hard work and passion and mixing that with fun. We showed them how to work hard and enjoy that time. These boys love to play.”

Coach Penrod said the 2019 Chargers squad was more talented than the Miners, but Bingham’s mental toughness won out. “This season, we had the skill, talent and athleticism and our guys’ confidence put them over the edge,” he said. “Our guys simply turned on a switch and it was on the whole day. It was a confirmation of what I knew they were.” 

“Winning this year felt unreal,” Nielsen said. “We played so good as a team and had intensity during the whole tournament. If we didn’t have that it would’ve been a different story.”

Corner Canyon’s junior varsity team also came out on top in their division at the “Kick the COVID Tournament,” defeating each opponent in straight sets with the exception of Bingham. Against the Miners during pool play, the Chargers lost the first set before dominating the final two sets. In the finals, Corner Canyon beat Bingham in two sets to win the title. 

Rappleye and Featherstone captained the squad that also included Tristan Ma’e, Caleb Sonntag, Ammon Mohr, Clark Croshaw, Cashel Fehrenbach and Quinton Harker.