SUGAR CITY — The dozens of state tournament banners that hang in the gym at Sugar-Salem highlight the success of the Diggers' athletic program, with multiple sports earning the coveted blue championship trophy and banner in multiple years, each one signifying a season ending in celebration.

For visiting opponents, the banners on the walls and the trophies that fill the trophy cases along the hallway likely set an intimidating tone. But for the the Digger players, the feeling may be different.

Pressure?

Motivation?

"We know we have to bring our game every night," senior volleyball player Katie Miller said. "We have to fight for every point."

The proverbial target on the back of the reigning champion means every team is gunning to knock off Sugar-Salem, which looks for its third straight 3A state title this season and fifth in six years.

There's not much pressure with this team, but there are expectations.

The Diggers feature nine seniors and each know the bar the program has set. One area coach mentioned she'd be surprise if Sugar-Salem even lost a set this season.

That's kind of the expectation set for a team that has dominated opponents at every level. It's also bad news for those opponents that the 2021 Diggers may be the best in program history.

"We felt like the last four years were special," coach Cami Dodson said, noting the influx of talent in the freshman and sophomore class. "We saw it coming and kind of developed it and so we wanted to be able and sit and enjoy it.

"We could see the talent coming through and we could see the depth of talent. There wasn't just one or two stars, there was a lot of great, great athletes."

Players saw it too. Even as underclassmen winning their first title, it was obvious something special was brewing. Most of the girls had competed against or with each other even before high school and all the pieces just seemed to mesh.

"We've been playing a lot together," Miller said. "The chemistry is strong. We're like a family."

The team is loaded with all-state and all-area selections, including returning all-state first-teamers Miller and Kimberly Pannell.

The goal isn't just about collecting blue trophies, it was about progressing along the way.

"Every year we stepped it up internally as a team and gotten better as we've gotten older," Pannell said.

Pannell, who's been on varsity since she was a freshman, said motivation isn't an issue with this team.

"We know we can get there (win another state title)," she said. "We can't let ourselves get cocky."

Dodson said keeping the team motivated actually starts in practice. Players run through more complex drills and the coaching staff always challenges the team to be better.

"We put a lot of it back on them," Dodson said. "We want them to be internally motivated. We want them to find that fire and bring it every time. That way it converts onto the court."

Complacency isn't a word taken lightly, if ever, around Sugar-Salem athletics. For the volleyball team, the goal is always the same: work hard, have fun, bring home a championship.

Nothing less will do for nine seniors.

"We've spent a lot of time on the court … We just know what needs to happens," Natalyah Nead said.

Allan Steele is Sports Editor of the Post Register. Reach him at 208 542-6772 and follow on Twitter at asteele12000

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