The eight seniors on the Horizon Honors boys’ volleyball team are no strangers to deep playoff runs, yet the large class has yet to claim a state championship.
Changing that is atop their to-do list.
Coach Lisa Barlow, who has led the program for six seasons, has seen the eight – the most the Eagles have had in a senior class – grow from having no volleyball experience at all.
“They know each other’s capabilities, who’s going to get each ball. It’s like a well-oiled machine that has been created over four years,” Barlow said.
It’s not as if Horizon never has had a strong senior class. Those who graduated in 2018 went to the state quarterfinals.
So Barlow acknowledged having some preseason nerves. Specifically, she was unsure how the offense would function. A straight-sets win over Poston Butte that improved their record to 5-1 helped settle her. She was pleasantly surprised by how well her players worked together.
She has an impressive history of quickly building successful teams. Before last year’s deep tournament run, the Eagles also reached the semifinals in 2016 and were state runners-up the year after.
This senior class has been part of it all. The experience playing in the late rounds paired with the pain of losing late motivates it to hoist the trophy this time.
“We got to see the team get all the way to the state-title game a few years ago, and it’s been something we’ve talked about for us to get there, and even further,” said senior Josh Lesio.
As a small school, most of the Horizon sports teams compete in 3A. However, because fewer small schools field boys volleyball teams in the spring, Horizon Honors is tossed into 5A, where it has had playoff success, beating schools with double or triple its enrollment.
“They are so proud that we’re such a small school because we play and do well against the big boys. It’s earned them a lot of respect,” Barlow said.
Several Horizon players competed with the Eagles basketball squad. They missed the first days of volleyball practice.
“It’s almost like we’re still figuring it all out and gaining our chemistry as the season goes on,” senior captain Matt Murphy said. “So it’s cool to see that we’ve been doing so well even with all that.”
Barlow encourages her upperclassmen to find talented athletes in other Horizon sports and recruit them to volleyball in the spring.
Many Horizon Honors players never played competitive volleyball until their freshman year. Barlow is confidant that she can coach them to be solid when it’s their turn to play on the varsity. This senior class reflects that.
“That’s how we’re going to keep the program strong. And it’s good for them to see the level of play now,” Barlow said.
They’re aiming for what would be regarded in most circles as an improbable state championship in 5A.
“We all want to win so we can show others what we’re about,” Lesio said. “Then maybe we can put Horizon on the map.”