The Sunrise Mountain High Mustangs, under first-year coach Brandi Jans, are once-again a playoff contender in 5A girls’ volleyball.
Jans is in a new role, but not a novice to the program. She served as an assistant under coach Bob Levardo. When he took a college coaching job last winter, Jans was promoted to the head role. She worked right away to put her own stamp on the program.
“I thought coach Levardo did a great job with them, but now I kind of want to be somebody as a female voice that they can relate to, and put my own style on the team,” Jans said.
One of Jans’ new qualities is her lack of affiliation with a club team. She said that is rare among high-level varsity coaches. Thus, regardless of the reputation of the teams the girls play with outside of the high school season, she had a full open tryout, searching for the best 12 players.
Also unique is her coaching style. She runs fast-paced practices, perfect for Sunrise Mountain’s new defensive scheme, which involves more movement and switching on the floor. The girls seem to love it.
“We do so much conditioning, so it’s definitely tiring, but when we’re in the game and we’re high-energy, we can keep it up, and it has helped us a lot,” senior Shauna Rath said of the team.
The Mustangs, with a new roster and play style, were challenged right away this year, facing defending-champion Millennium in the first match of the season state runner-up Sunnyslope just a couple weeks after. They lost both, but were not swept in either.
Despite falling to teams the team may see again, Jans was impressed by the fight her girls showed. They also have recorded some big victories, including wins over Centennial and Verrado, who are normally among the top 5A squads.
Play in the 5A Northwest Division has been challenging. The Mustangs play several grueling matches against playoff teams on a regular basis. However, the girls see the schedule as a blessing.
“Back when we were in 4A, we would win a lot of matches and then not always be ready when the playoffs came against the really good teams,” said senior Reannan Bihlmeier. “Now we have to play all these tough teams all the time, so we know what we’re up against.”
There are several high-quality teams in the way of a Sunrise Mountain path to a deep playoff run, each with their own aspirations of a championship. The road will be tough.
Regardless of the final record, or playoff spot, though, Jans seems to have made a smooth transition, and things look bright for the Mustangs.
“I noticed right away how hard they were working, and how much they wanted to improve, and I liked that attitude,” Jans said. “I think we’re set up for some big things in the future."