Huskies spikers ready for state tourney
EDWARDS — Congratulations, Battle Mountain volleyball, you made the state tournament for the first time in seven years. Your reward?
Coach Jason Fitzgerald will stand on a 4-foot-high crate and pound volleyballs upon you in practice.
“We just really have to trust the coach,” the team’s libero, Taylor Anderson, said. “That he’s not going to nail us in the face.”
Well done to coach Fitz, who did not peg one of his players in the noggin. The drill was simply a way to simulate the speed of the opposition at the state tournament at the Denver Coliseum on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s fantastic for us,” Fitzgerald said. “Over these four years, as we’ve been rebuilding Battle Mountain volleyball, each year we wanted to climb the ladder a little bit in succession. So making it down to the state floor isn’t just for this group, but for all the girls of years past who didn’t get that opportunity.”
Theoretically, last year was the year Battle Mountain would make state, but none of this is scripted, so here come the 2014 Huskies.
“It’s still surreal,” senior Emily Clinton said. “It’s really exciting and I’m really proud of our team and how we’ve overcome obstacles to get this far.”
Both Montrose (301 miles to the Coliseum) and Battle Mountain (113 miles) will head to Denver to play each other again, instead of playing, say, in Rifle.
Usually, a coach will spend a lot of time calling up colleagues to scout the unknown opponent, but the Indians and Huskies have been playing each other each year since 2008.
“What they’ve shown us year after year is consistency, steady play, very few errors,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s been our downfall when we’ve faced them. We’ve not played a game we feel proud of coming off the floor. We’re looking for that opportunity.”
Practice at this point is back to basics. There is no point cramming for a final exam — it’s all about reducing mistakes and playing defense, be it for Montrose on Friday or Valor Christian on Saturday.
Fitz as Gene Hackman?
Montrose and Valor are both veterans of the state tournament, while it’s the first trip for this group of Huskies.
“We had a ‘Hoosiers’ talk the other day that the court’s 30-by-30 and the net’s 7-4 just like it’s in our gym,” Fitzgerald said.
If Gene Hackman does, in fact, play Fitzgerald in the movie, the latter is doing better on the hair-line front.
And Hoosiers isn’t the only form of inspiration from which Battle Mountain is drawing. The team has been watching videos of the 1983 N.C. State basketball team as well as the 2011 UCLA volleyball team.
It’s all added reinforcement to a team that’s been tossed and tumbled by the rigors of a long season — injuries to setter Maddie Perkins and Clinton on the same day, as well as tough late-season losses to Steamboat Springs and Eagle Valley.
“I definitely think losing to them was a learning experience for us for the better,” Clinton said. “We’ve grown tremendously from the losses and the injuries this season. It brought us together more.”
And then there’s that 8 a.m. start thing. The Huskies, state newcomers, may benefit from it. Although they’ve played in club tournaments with multiple courts going and so on, there is nothing like state volleyball in Denver.
Normally a team gets only a few minutes to warm-up on the floor as the matches roll all day. But with Battle Mountain starting the day, albeit at 8 a.m. both days, the team should have more time to get used to the court and the environment in warm-ups.
“We’re the first team on the floor in 4A,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to open the show. Sure, playing the opening match will give us a little more time to get acclimated to the venue. I do think that being the new program down at state, it may benefit us playing the morning game.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.