No pressure, all motivation for Saints
Vail, CO Colorado
EDWARDS ” This time, the Denver Coliseum may seem a little smaller. The crowd will be a little quieter (unless of course its the band of traveling Saints). And the top seeds won’t be unbeatable.
For Vail Christian volleyball, a second straight state appearance is much more business-like than the team’s inaugural bid last year.
“We were just happy to be there and it was the first time anyone had gone,” Vail Christian coach Cathy Alexander said of the 2006 squad, which returns all but one for this year’s tournament. “Once we got there, we were done. That was the final thing. But this year, we are not going to let that happen.”
It wasn’t a forgone conclusion that the Saints, with so many returners, would be playing at state again, although the chances were pretty good. Still, from the first match, a state berth was kind of a taboo topic.
“This whole season, we haven’t really been talking about it,” said Vail Christian’s Sammantha Francis. “It’s a relief and exciting that we’re back and able to play again.
Now, the Saints are ready to set their own levels, with some motivation to help out.
“I think this year we come in with higher expectations,” Francis said. “We know we are a good team and want to prove it because we were seeded really low.”
As the No. 8 seed, the Saints (22-4) draw No. 1 Fleming (27-0) to start the tournament at around 11 a.m.
“Starting out with them is probably a good thing,” Alexander said. “It will put us in a mindset of having to play tough all day. We saw them play this summer at a Rangely tournament and they have a really big middle hitter and some good outside hitters. They are a solid team.”
Following a one-match break, the Saints play No. 4 McClave (21-5).
“I think it’s good for my girls,” Alexander said. “The longer we sit, the harder it is.”
Then, on Saturday, Vail Christian closes out pool play Saturday at 8 a.m. against No. 5 Flagler (21-4).
“I know they have two hitters and that’s it,” Alexander said. “They set everything to the same two hitters. In my opinion, a team can beat two players.”
Alexander doesn’t think her team deserves a No. 8 seed, but realizes seeding won’t matter much.
“We were seeded a little low, but we go in and earn our respect,” she said. “Anybody can beat anyone on a given day. These girls have come together and each of them have different skills and abilities and put together, I think we’re a hard team to beat, as well.”
Aside from the No. 1 and No. 2 seed (La Veta), the other teams boast similar records on both sides of the draw.
“Everyone has from four to seven losses,” Alexander said. “The girls have a chance of going in and pulling off some wins.”
While the Saints have been tough to stop all year on offense, they showed their proficiency on the other side of the net at regionals.
“That was the first time we really stepped it on defense,” said Vail Christian setter Britni Beagley. “We were moving forward and anticipating.”
One thing the Saints also hope to continue are tough serves.
“We’ll be keeping them out of system as much as possible and send them as few free balls as possible,” Alexander said.
On offense, the Saints boast a diverse group of hitters and two setters that can find them well. But what will be most important is maintaining consistency and winning the hard-fought points.
“Coach has been getting us to focus this week, like we did at regionals, on playing point-by-point and match-by-match,” Francis said. “We know what we’ll face and we’re better prepared for teams hitting harder.”
The Saints didn’t even need practice to start getting them focused this week.
“They didn’t want to take (Monday) off, but I forced them to,” Alexander said.
Even then, some of the girls just couldn’t stay away.
“We had some girls go to Gypsum Recreation Center and hit some balls to keep their heads in the game,” Beagley said.
Unlike some other road matches this year, this weekend’s tourney may have the feel of St. Clare ” where the Saints play at home. A large contingent of Vail Christian supporters is expected to be with the team Friday and Saturday.
“Our fans are great,” Francis said. “They paint their faces. It’s fun to make a kill, and first turn to your teammates and see them support you, then turn to the rest of your school and see them support you.”
The Saints practice again today, then after a scrimmage Thursday, head out on the road for the final time this season.
“We’ve been making sure we’re counting our blessings because we’ve had a great season without many injuries and we’re focusing on keeping the team strong and keeping together,” Francis said.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.