Down goes Norwood: Vail Christian goes to Denver |

Down goes Norwood: Vail Christian goes to Denver

Special to the Daily/Steve FrancisVail Christian celebrates its first regional title in school history Saturday in Gunnison. The Saints went 3-0 in Region A, including a big four-set win against Norwood, to qualify for state for the first time since 2007.

GUNNISON – Who writes this stuff, really?

About eight months ago, it looked like there would be no Vail Christian High School. Now, not only are the doors still open, but the school won its first regional volleyball title Saturday and is making a triumphant return to next weekend’s state tournament in Denver.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Saints coach Cathy Alexander after her team went 3-0 in the Region A Tournament Saturday down in Gunnison. “It’s great to show that we have a purpose for being here, that the school has a purpose to serve our kids academically and athletically.”

Vail Christian beat Sierra Grande to start the tournament, and then got the win of the season to date. In their third meeting of the year, the Saints finally beat Norwood, 25-21, 25-21, 26-28, 25-10.

While that technically did the trick for the Saints as far as state, Vail Christian still pounded Mountain Valley in three to win the regional title. That’s the Saints’ first regional title in any sport, which means that Vail Christian athletic director Tim Pierson will happily get cracking on putting up a new banner in the gym.

“I don’t know how to describe how I feel about all that,” libero McKenzie O’Brien said. “I think it’s great we’ve improved ourselves and we’re so thankful to have a school and the chance to have people watch what we can do.”

It’s their turn

And if all this didn’t seem a little over the top, there’s more. The heart of this team was in the stands as eighth-graders for Vail Christian’s last state appearance in 2007. They’re going to be on the floor next week.

“It’s actually unthinkable,” Alexander said. “This means a lot more with Kylie (Alexander, the team’s setter and daughter of the coach), McKenzie, Ashlyn (Gruber). They were eighth-graders the last time we went. Kylie said, ‘We’re going to go there.’ Getting her and that group there is sweet.”

Vail Christian did it with a supremely-balanced effort and with a little help from Brenda Boot Camp, and good call from coach Alexander.

The biggest worry of the day for the Saints was that they were playing Norwood and Mountain Valley in back-to-back matches. First, the team really wanted to beat Norwood, having lost to the Mavericks twice, once during the regular season and later in last week’s district final.

Then what happened after the Norwood game? If the Saints lost, would they be too spent to play Mountain Valley? If they won, could they come down off the emotional high to play the third match?

As it turns out Vail Christian finally got the Mavs. Alexander praised sophomore Paris Baker for getting some big blocks on Norwood’s primary hitter, neutralizing her. Alexander then ripped off the names of just about everyone else on the team who played a vital role in the win.

Or as senior Dakota Francis put it succinctly, “If any one of our players were missing, we couldn’t have done it.”

Good call, Coach

After Norwood, Alexander made a key decision. If a team plays back-to-back matches at the regional tournament, it gets 15 minutes to rest. The coach declined the rest, wanting to keep the momentum going from the Norwood win.

So the Saints went straight into Mountain Valley, and won easily, 25-17, 25-20, 25-15, for the regional crown. With three matches in the course of around seven hours, the Saints were tired but they had their secret weapon there.

“Brenda Boot Camp helped,” O’Brien said.

Brenda is Brenda Gruber, Ashlyn’s mom, who is also the team’s strength and conditioning coach. Throughout the season, Gruber has had the Saints doing all sorts of workouts to increase stamina for days like these, and it all paid off Saturday.

Vail Christian will receive its draw for state today on Unlike Class 3A-5A, where regional winners are assured of top-four seed out of the field of eight teams, 1A seeds differently.

According to the CHSAA handbook, “The tournament pairings committee shall consider but not be limited by the following factors (in no particular order): Strength of league/district, overall record, strength of competition, head-to-head competition and common opponents.”

We do know that the Saints will not be in the same pool as Norwood, which also went to state out of Regional A. After that, your mileage may vary.

In the meantime, Vail Christian is a happy bunch.

“It was a lot of fun,” Francis said. “We got the one that counted against Norwood.”

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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