Saints back at state
Vail, CO Colorado
GUNNISON ” OK, so they are a little relieved.
After qualifying to the 1A state volleyball tournament last year for the first time in school history, the Vail Christian Saints punched a ticket to this year’s state finale.
On Saturday, the Saints went 2-1 at the 1A Region A tournament in Gunnison, giving them a shot at winning the state title next weekend at the Denver Coliseum.
“We tried not to have the expectations, but everyone had them for us,” Saints coach Cathy Alexander said. “But we did a really good job of playing point-for-point, game-for-game and match-for-match, trying not to let anything disturb us. Even if we lost, we knew we had another point and another game.”
In its first match, Vail Christian fell to La Veta in three games, 25-21, 25-23, 25-18, but won its next two matches against Dove Creek and Mountain Valley and got some help from La Veta to avoid a tiebreaker match.
“It’s sweet,” Alexander said of her team’s second straight berth to the state tournament. “The girls have worked really hard to define themselves as volleyball players and did a great job.”
The Saints (22-4) entered regionals with a wealth of experience, returning all but one player from last year.
“It was tremendous,” Alexander said. “The girls knew what to expect. They knew everyone was going to be good and that we couldn’t have any mental lapses. Our first two matches were a total of four hours of play. We didn’t eat lunch until 4 p.m.”
Despite the three-game loss, Vail Christian played well against No. 1 La Veta, setting the tone for the day.
“They are a big team and have some big hitters and a wide variety of hitters,” Alexander said. “And they have a lot of seniors like we do. We hung with them and dug a lot of balls that other teams didn’t. I was proud of our girls ” they kept the momentum going.”
Needing a win in their next match to stay alive, the Saints stumbled in the first game but went on to beat the Bulldogs, 19-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-23.
“Dove Creek is a good team,” Alexander said. “They are just scrappy and seem to get things up (off the floor). I have to give a lot of credit to Kelly Bowles. She came in after the first game and said, ‘We aren’t going to lose this match.’ She took over and ended up with 11 kills. She stepped it up to that additional level. As a senior, you look for that.”
The win also avenged a loss Dove Creek had dealt to Vail Christian in districts.
After a break, the Saints showed no signs of rust, dominating the Indians, 25-17, 25-21, 25-17.
“It was very consistent ” back to the way we’ve been playing all year,” Alexander said. “They were very confident, very methodical ” making passes and kills. We had some service errors as we got tired in Game 2, but in Game 3, we kept them to 17 points.”
Then, the Saints put on their cheering caps for La Veta (then 2-0) against Dove Creek (then 1-1) while staying mentally prepared for a potential tiebreaker.
“We had to it this last year, as well,” Alexander said. “We were glad La Veta won. They won in four ” it gave me a lot of gray hairs.”
The full cast of characters contributed all day for Vail Christian.
“We hit the ball very well and didn’t have a lot of unforced errors or balls out,” Alexander said. “Everything was all across the board (for kills).”
Against La Veta, Molly Brooks tallied seven kills, while Sammantha Francis came in as outsider hitter and had five kills. Francis added nine kills in the Dove Creek match at middle hitter.
“She’s my ‘I can do anything, coach’ player,” Alexander said.
Kristen McGinty had nine kills in the Dove Creek match, while Allie Parker pitched in eight. McGinty and Bianca Jensen provided a solid block in the second and third matches.
As impressive as Vail Christian was on offense, the Saint stepped up play on the defensive side.
“They’ve been focusing on defense for a week and a half,” Alexander said. “We were making our defense so that everyone was moving and engaging the ball on every point. Not many balls dropped on our side.”
Saturday’s performance improved the Saints to 2-for-3 in advancing from regionals.
“These girls have worked hard to build a program, and it draws more kids to our school,” Alexander said. “I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
And, yes, the Saints can exhale and enjoy what they have accomplished ” so far.
“Now we can relax for a bit,” Alexander said. “But the girls aren’t thinking we’re just going (to state). We’re going to win some matches there at the very least.”
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.