A season to remember comes to an end for Eagle Valley volleyball
DENVER — It’s hard to pick just one thing that stands out about this year’s Eagle Valley volleyball team, but the thing that sticks out most is how much fun this group of girls have on the volleyball court together.
There’s Sydney Manzanares and Elli Lubbers who spent all season screaming into each other’s faces speaking a language only the two seem to understand.
Jillian Byron is almost fluent in Sydney-Elli language, but she’s perfected the dance moves that fill Eagle Valley’s bench in between sets and during timeouts.
There’s the heavy hitters, Emma Lassa and Becy Glutova, who make the volleyball from “Cast Away” seem like it’s on a vacation.
And then there’s Elyse Fitzpatrick and Teaghan Mercer, who have formed a formidable wall at the net all season long.
There’s also first-year coach Jackie Rindy, who stepped in at the last minute because the Devils didn’t have a coach weeks away from the season opener.
And in the middle of it all were two senior captains, Kylie Martin and Molly Jewett, who helped run practices preparing for the season when the team didn’t have a coach yet.
Eagle Valley ended a fairytale season on the state floor Friday night, losing in the round of 12, but it is far from the end for all Devils involved.
“Our goal the whole year was to come here. That’s all we wanted,” Martin said. “We didn’t play our best but we had fun, and I’m sure they’ll make it back next year.”
Behind the leadership of Martin and Jewett, all of the Devils on the roster can say they played on the state floor in the Denver Coliseum, even Lubbers, who has been fighting mono since regionals and had to borrow a teammate’s shoes because she showed up in Crocs.
“Everybody got in on the state floor,” said Rindy. “That’s what they wanted, to make sure everybody got a part of this. That’s what these girls are about.”
They laugh, they dance, they have fun and they just so happen to be really good at volleyball.
The Devils cruised through Western Slope play this season finishing a perfect 12-0 while maintaining a 23-3 overall record. In 12 league games, the Devils dropped two sets, a remarkable record of 36-2 over the course of the season.
“Just the fact that we made it here is such a big accomplishment because it hasn’t happened in a long time,” Glutova said of the five-year state-tournament drought. “And just the energy flowing throughout our team is amazing. It’s so great to play with them.”
Eagle Valley’s “all in” mission this year was to advance past regionals and make it to the state tournament — consider the season a mission accomplished.
Their clinching game to advance through regionals sums up what this Devils team is about.
Trailing 2-1 against Evergreen, who knocked out the Devils last year in regionals, the Devils rallied back to win two straight sets and clinch a state berth. They never wavered and, yes, Manzanares and Lubbers were dancing during timeouts with the season on the line.
“They’re an amazing group of kids that came together this year and put it all on the line,” said Tami Payne, the Eagle Valley athletic director and vice principal who performed perfect-form back handsprings on the Devils court after clinching regionals. “They’ve been fun to watch and they’ve had a long journey.”
‘JUST A CONNECTION’
The journey continues next year, sans Martin and Jewett, who will be taking a new adventure — college. Both have verbally committed to play volleyball next year, Martin at Laramie County Community College and Wyoming, and Jewett at Ohio Wesleyan University. (It’s only a 19-hour drive separating the two of you next year.)
The two leaders of the Devils have been playing volleyball with each other, or against each other, since sixth grade.
In the bowels of the Denver Coliseum, Jewett and Martin embraced each other after sharing hugs and tears with the rest of their teammates. The tears really started flowing as they both held each other and exchanged a few words.
“It was more of just a connection, we didn’t really say anything,” Martin said. “It just, that’s it.”
Martin has done it all during her tenure at Eagle Valley. She can block, set, serve and can put it down with the best of them. And the entire Devils offense has revolved around Jewett, the setter.
“I could not have had two better captains,” Rindy said. “They knew what they wanted from the very beginning.”
The sad thing about seniors is they graduate, but luckily for Rindy and the rest of the Devils, a solid core is returning for next year — now with state tournament experience.
“We’ve got some girls that have some big shoes to fill,” Rindy said. “Molly and Kylie were not just great players, but they were true leaders, and we have a few girls that are capable of doing that.”
While the rest of the team helps provide the energy on the floor, Jewett and Martin have been leaders both verbally and by example, providing an example for the younger Devils to follow.
“We had to be role models to them,” Martin said, “and I think we did a good job of that.”
With a few young players in the wings, next year might be a breakout for freshman Shelbi Lubbers and sophomore Elyse Fitzpatrick, who both saw more playing time down the stretch.
“We’re going to miss them, but we’re going to make up for them and I think we have people that can step up and I think we can make it back here,” said Glutova, a junior.
Whether it was the bright lights of the Denver Coliseum or the lack of music, the No. 2-ranked Devils just didn’t seem themselves on Friday.
Early errors against their first opponent, No. 11 Niwot, doomed them from the beginning. Unforced errors and errant serves put the Devils down quick in the first set, and they weren’t able to recover.
“It was just nerves,” Rinday said of the first matchup. “When you get to this level, you can’t give any points away. We gave too many points away in the first set, it rattled them and it’s a big stage, everybody plays well. You can’t give away points, that’s what it all boils down to.”
The Devils weren’t officially eliminated just yet. They could have set up a round robin, single-set playoff if they could have beat No. 7 Holy Family and then if Holy Family could beat Niwot later in the night.
The Devils trailed by two sets against Holy Family, despite playing more relaxed than the first game. They won the third set but lost in the fourth.
Holy Family beat three 5A schools this year, has a transfer player from the No. 2 team in the country last year and swept Thomas Jefferson, the No. 9 team in the tournament.
“You can not hang your head when you end on the state floor. You’ve got to walk out of here smiling, and they did,” Rindy said.
No matter what next year brings, this Devils team will eventually be able to look back with pride at a great run that could possibly set up another run in 2017. Undoubtedly, they’ll also remember each other.
“We did good,” Jewett told Martin during their post-game embrace, the last time they donned the Eagle Valley jersey.
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.