Down a setter, Saints drop a pair
Vail CO, Colorado
DENVER ” Vail Christian volleyball was ready this time.
The Saints, with six girls on the floor, looked like a perfectly in-tune machine and churned out dig after dig, block after block and point after point.
In the first game of its opening match of the 1A State Volleyball Championship on Friday, No. 8 Vail Christian plowed through an undefeated No. 1 Fleming team.
“That’s the best we’ve ever played,” Vail Christian coach Cathy Alexander said.
“We were so together and ready to beat them,” Saints middle hitter Kristin McGinty said.
Vail Christian was stuffing Fleming’s attack and giving the Wildcats more than they could handle on offense.
As ready as they were in only their sophomore appearance to state, the Saints found out there are some things for which you really can’t prepare.
In the second game, one of Vail Christian’s setters, Brooke Bowles went down with a broken arm. Bowles, who at the time didn’t know she broke her arm, stayed in the game for several points, in obvious pain, and tallied an assist before falling on her arm again and coming out for good.
Without one of their two setters, the Saints had to switch from a six-two offense (six hitters and two setters) to a five-one. Between the uncertainty of how Bowles was doing and the unfamiliarity of the totally new offense, the Saints had trouble keeping up with Fleming.
“Mentally I think it hurt the girls more than anything,” Alexander said.
“We were really surprised when Brooke got hurt, and we tried to regroup,” McGinty said.
Fleming went on to win, 19-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-13.
Later in the afternoon, the Saints put up a hard fight against No. 4 McClave but
came up short, 25-19, 27-25, 25-12.
“We learn to take life’s lessons and do the best with them,” Alexander said. “Every one of them played as hard as they could. There’s just a chemistry issue when you are missing one player. I was very pleased with the effort.”
For almost the entire day, the Saints played some of their best volleyball this season and acted like perennial state qualifiers.
“We’re stepping it up a level,” Alexander said. “We’ve played some opponents (in league) that play like this, but not with that consistency.”
Even with the two losses, the Saints are still alive heading into its final pool match today.
Fleming (2-0) beat Flagler (1-1), while McClave (1-1) fell to Flagler in the opening match of the day. If Vail Christian beats Flagler in its 8 a.m. matchup and McClave loses to Fleming, the three teams at 1-2 will have to play one-game playoffs to determine which will emerge for the semifinals. (One team will be given a bye, based on game winning percentage, while the other two will play each other to see who moves on to play the bye team.)
“I really wanted to win those (Friday), but we’ve go to come out (Saturday) and win,” Kelly Bowles said.
Following the midmatch switch against Fleming from the 6-2 to the 5-1, Vail Christian overcame a bit of a lull and rekindled its offense.
“It was difficult because I had already done some substitutions, so I didn’t have the right people to put in the right places,” Alexander said. “But Beri Dwyer came in and picked it up and played very well. We haven’t run a 5-1 all season. We haven’t even practiced it. They played out of their minds. I’m so pleased.”
Fleming’s coach thought the Saints brought a tough look, even in the 5-1.
“They are very well-coached and have a lot of weapons,” Derek Herbert said. “A lot of teams we play, there is only one hitter and you know the ball is going there. With them, you never know where the ball is coming from.”
An array of Saints came off the bench, which isn’t new, although they found themselves in new positions.
“It was a different feeling for our team,” said Kelly Bowles, who stepped it up on offense against Fleming and had a team-high seven kills. “When we passed well, we made good kills. I’m so proud of the girls. They tried their best, and that’s all we can ask.”
As the lone setter, Britni Beagley stepped up to the plate and made great sets from all over the court.
“That’s good and bad,” Alexander said of Beagley’s ubiquity. “It means we weren’t passing well. Starting towards the end of the second and at the start of the third game (against McClave), our passing fell apart and that goes with confidence of what’s happening.”
After a close first game against the Cardinals, the Saints fell behind by sizable margins twice in the second game, only to storm right back.
With McClave up, 17-11, Alexander called a timeout, and Vail Christian responded by winning the next six points. The Cardinals pulled ahead again, to 21-17, only to see the Saints grab a 23-22 lead. A few McClave kills put the Cardinals over the top.
“I think the loss really deflated them,” Alexander said. “As a coach I say this, but I think had we won that (game), it would have been a different outcome or at least a better outcome in that third game.”
It didn’t really matter that both Fleming and McClave had a go-to hitter along with plenty of secondary threats. The Saints put up a solid block in both matches.
“Especially against Fleming, we had phenomenal blocks,” Alexander said.
“Then, in the first and second games against McClave, we shut down their big hitters.”
When the Saints couldn’t dish their opponents’ hits back right away, there were other defenders ready to tip or dig.
“We were letting our defense know where we were so we could work around that,” McGinty said. “We’ve been working really hard playing defense against hard hits. The front row (gets) a lot of credit, but the back row defense really deserves some points.”
When there was some confusion and balls hit the floor on Vail Christian’s side, the Saints brushed it off and moved on.
“There was no finger-pointing. Nobody was getting mad at each other,” Alexander said.
Like last year, the Saints head into the final day with a shot at moving on but need to win and need help from still-undefeated Fleming.
“We’ll have to regroup,” Alexander said. “We’ve got strong faith in our team and what God can do for us.”
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at email@example.com or 748-2935.