Before Payton Spoja’s family moved to Boise from Billings, Mont., she was already making phone calls to her former Boise High volleyball teammates.
First on that list was longtime friend Sophia Graham.
“I was excited. I had been trying to convince her the entire year to come back,” Graham said. “We needed her for the volleyball team.”
The Braves had six seniors on their roster heading into the season, but Spoja’s return gave them another powerful option at outside hitter and a consistent defensive presence in the back row.
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The 5-foot-11 University of Montana commit leads the Braves in kills with 172.
“She is a competitor. She wants to win more than anything,” Boise coach Kyle McMorrow said. “Volleyball-wise, she is what we’re looking for in an outside hitter. She’s a passer, she plays defense and she jumps high and hits hard.”
All seven of Boise’s seniors see time on the court, and their leadership has eased the learning curve for McMorrow, a 23-year-old, first-year varsity coach.
He took over the program in May and was immediately met by Spoja and the other seniors, who wanted to start twice-weekly open gyms.
“I walked into our first open gym and was like ‘Wow,’” McMorrow said. “We’ve got some height here, if nothing else.”
Five of the Braves stand 6-foot or taller, with senior middle blocker Bailey Schieve the most intimidating presence at 6-4.
But height isn’t the only advantage for the Braves this season. By using two setters, Boise has three hitters in the front row for every rotation.
“I think we all knew we could have a really strong team this year,” Spoja said. “... Especially at tryouts, it was just, like, ‘Wow, we are going to have a really good team this year.’ It was really cool to see that.”
Boise’s only 5A Southern Idaho Conference loss this season came against defending district champion Timberline in four sets last week.
The Braves can clinch the No. 2 seed in the 5A District Three Tournament — which begins Saturday at Rocky Mountain High with play-in games — with a win in their final regular-season game Wednesday at home against Rocky Mountain.
As the No. 2 seed at district, the Braves would be placed on the opposite side of the bracket from the Wolves, aligning a potential championship match between the two programs.
“I think we started out really high against Timberline emotionally,” McMorrow said. “And then when things started to go not so well, that kind of came down a little bit.
“I think we just need to level our emotions and just play volleyball, especially in these next couple weeks when we are playing good teams every night.”
Five of Boise’s seven seniors plan to play in college — Spoja (Montana), Graham (Concordia), Schieve (West Point), Maddie Wolter (Carroll) and Madi Tripp (undecided).
Graham has been sidelined since early September with liver inflammation, but she was cleared to return Tuesday in a win against Kuna — and just in time for a postseason push.
Boise has not won a match at state since 2010, and this year’s seniors don’t plan on returning from Idaho Falls empty-handed.
“One of our biggest goals since the beginning of the season is win district, win state,” Spoja said. “We have a really competitive team, and we have a really good team. It’s not too off the charts for that. That’s a realistic goal for us.”
Volleyball key dates
- 5A District Three Tournament: Oct. 15-20 at Rocky Mountain High. Championship match at 6 p.m. Oct. 20
- 5A state tournament: Oct. 28-29 at Skyline High, Idaho Falls