Vail Christian volleyball wins seventh-straight with comeback win over Meeker
It was the first time the Saints have beaten the Cowboys since 2015
Friday night’s volleyball game between Vail Christian and Meeker had all the ingredients for a spicy contest: two teams with zero league losses, fighting for Western Slope supremacy. If that’s not enough, how about the visitors’ eight-year winning streak against the home squad?
“There was a lot of pressure that I love,” said Saints head coach Britney Branson. “I knew it would be our biggest challenge of the year. (Meeker) is very well-coached, they’re consistent, they’re very composed, they’re mentally sharp. They don’t make a lot of errors, and they’re super scrappy.”
Branson’s team rose to the occasion in the most dramatic of ways, coming back from an 0-2 deficit to defeat the Cowboys for the first time since Sept. 11, 2015. The 24-26, 19-25, 25-22, 25-7, 15-9 win was the Saints’ seventh-straight and gives them sole possession of the 1A/2A Western Slope.
“Katy Allen, our assistant, has been with the program forever; Adina Petersmeyer was there, Kathie Alexander was there, so you could just feel it and see how much it meant to everybody to finally beat them,” Branson said.
Meeker, which had won 14 of the last 15 meetings against the Saints going back to 2012, including a tight 3-2 victory in the 2022 state tournament, got out to a 6-1 lead in the first. Branson said her team’s self-inflicted wounds were largely to blame.
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“But we picked it up,” the coach said.
“I thought our offense looked really good and honestly, Meeker was just making incredible digs. I kept telling (our players) like, ‘you guys just gotta keep hitting different shots.'”
Despite what she called “some of the best hitting” she’s seen from several of her athletes, the Cowboys were stronger, pulling out a 26-24 first-set win and cruising to victory in the second as well.
“They were just too consistent, and we couldn’t get them out of system,” Branson said, adding that her message to the bench late in the second was to focus on harnessing momentum for the third.
“I wanted our energy to just be so high, even though we were down,” she said. “The first thing I said to them was, ‘I hope you guys want to play three more sets, because it’s going to be a long night.'”
Apparently, everyone was willing to stay up late — it wasn’t a school night after all.
The Saints burst out to an 18-8 lead, then gave it all back as the Cowboys tied it up 20-20. After the Saints eked out the set, Mary McClarrinon went off.
“We just kept setting her, and she kept scoring,” Branson said of the freshman hitter, who tallied a large majority of her career-high 20 kills in the pivotal fourth set.
The Saints continued to make adjustments. Instead of serving right at the Cowboys, they started serving between the seams in an effort to thwart their opponents’ system which, until Friday, had been Saints-proof.
“And I just said, ‘I need our offense to try different shots,'” Branson recalled of her message in the huddle.
“We need to mix up our shots; we need to tip, we need to hit line, cross, cut, all these things.”
Before the final set, Branson prepped her team mentally. “I just said, ‘we need to stay composed. This is going to be high energy. Your adrenaline is going to be high so you need to control your breath, control your heart so you can stay focused and not be overwhelmed,'” she said.
Vail Christian 6-0/8-2
Plateau Valley 5-1/10-1
Grand Valley 4-2/5-6
Caprock Academy 4-4/ 9-4
De Beque 3-4/7-5
North Fork 1-4/1-7
Vail Mountain 1-5/3-10
West Grand 0-4/3-10
North Park 0-6/3-10
“And, just battle.”
It was a race to eight, but the Saints won the final sprint to 15, closing things out 15-9.
“It was a really exciting night,” Branson said.
McClarrinon and Logan Nobrega each achieved a double-double, with the latter tallying 23 digs and 37 assists. Jessie Allen and Shannon Lyle added 43 and 22 digs, respectively, and Maggie Rothenberg had 10 kills for the Saints, who are currently ranked ninth in 2A in the CHSAA Selection & Seeding Index.
“It really was an all-around team effort,” Branson said.
Next up for the Saints is another key league test, with Plateau Valley coming to town next Friday. The Cowboys (yes, they’re also the Cowboys) are 5-1 in league play and defeated the Saints 3-0 on Aug. 31 in a matchup which, ironically, was part of both team’s non-league schedule. Branson said her team is different than the one that lost that game three-and-half weeks ago.
She said her squad’s mental toughness and team chemistry is improving each day. Players have embraced the new coach’s culture and are accepting all of the offensive wrinkles she continues to throw at them. On Saturday, the former Battle Mountain star was impressed to see them seamlessly switch between a 6-2 and a 5-1. Sophomore Betty Bartok never missed a beat on her assignments.
“Betty was outstanding at serving and really good with defense. Just for our team to adjust to a 5-1 and be successful and open — they did really well with it,” Branson said. “I feel very confident with where we are. I think we’re growing and getting better each day.”
Still, she expects next week’s homecoming game to be a tough one.
“They’re super successful,” Branson said of Plateau Valley, which is 10-1 overall this season.
“I think it’s going to be just like this game. It’s going to be a battle.”