Saints giving Alexander a rousing farewell
EDWARDS — Last Thursday was Senior Night for Vail Christian volleyball.
The drill is familiar — the seniors have filled out a form, thanking their coaches and teammates and where they’re going to school and they give their folk some flowers and a hug. (At a parochial school like Vail Christian, a favorite Bible verse is added.)
And as perfunctory as such an occasion is, it’s an important thing for the players and their families, and Saints coach Cathy Alexander wanted the focus on those nine Vail Christian seniors.
But it didn’t go to script. The players, Saints fans and the school knew that last Thursday’s game against Soroco was Alexander’s final home match as she is retiring after the season after 15 years of leading Vail Christian and 25 years of coaching in the county, including a stint at Eagle Valley.
During the homecoming rally, the school feted Alexander. Before the game, the players surprised the coach with custom-made T-shirts. And Saints fans gave Alexander a standing ovation during introductions.
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“I didn’t look over there (at the stands),” Alexander said. “It’s not necessarily about me. It’s about the kids. I’m just kind of the one who orchestrates. It’s been a pleasure. I just looked on the wall at the flags, and thought about the kids who have worked hard to do all that. I’m glad I got to experience that with the kids.”
On the wall of the Wheeler Athletic Center are pennants from Vail Christian’s accomplished teams in various sports. The volleyball collection is rather impressive.
Under Alexander, the Saints have:
• Five league championships (two at 1A and three at 2A).
• Two regional titles.
• Five state-tournament appearances (2006, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2013).
And while that is impressive, Alexander has used volleyball as a vessel to prepare young women for life. Yes, it’s about the kids as Alexander says, but it doesn’t happen without the coach.
“In my tenure at this school as a teacher, coach and administrator, I have never seen someone in such a position have a lasting impact on kids as Cathy has had,” Vail Christian’s head of school Jeremy Lowe said. “What she means to Vail Christian is more than a coach. She’s a mentor of ladies. She takes to heart the second part of our mission statement, ‘To encourage growth in Christ to serve and lead.’”
Welcome to Waco
Cathy Saxton walked on at Baylor in 1985 as an outside hitter and ended up as a four-year letter winner with the Bears. In the summer of 1986, John Alexander was a pole-vaulter for Baylor and some guy named Charlie Alexander visited his brother.
“All the athletes hung out together and had late dinners at the athletic hall,” Charlie said. “She couldn’t stand it.”
Cathy and Charlie started dating and were married in 1990. Charlie had been to Vail and they decided to give Colorado a shot. Cathy started coaching at Gypsum, while Charlie was coaching pole vault to all-comers. In the late ’90s, he was coaching with Bob Isbell and Pat Phelan in track and field at Battle Mountain, when Isbell announced that he was going to help found a parochial school in the country and wanted Cathy to coach at the school.
“He’s one of the few guys who’s told my wife what to do,” Charlie joked.
And while Charlie is getting in a lot of one-liners and is a funny guy, Cathy and Charlie are a partnership. They’ve raised Kylie, Vail Christian Class of 2012, and current senior Taylor. They formed and own Zip Adventures, the zipline company in Wolcott.
They both coach — Charlie still teaches the pole vault to anyone who is willing on the Western Slope — and are constant fixtures at sporting events, watching Peanut, Kylie, and Spuddie, Taylor.
“We can make eye contact, when something is going on,” Charlie said. “We have a great connection there. I have a lot of splinters in my butt, but I love watching her do her thing, working with the kids.”
When Cathy arrived at Vail Christian at St. Clare — the Saints played their home games there before the new campus went up across the street — the Saints, well, tactfully-put weren’t too good.
“She started coaching my freshman year,” said Lauren Mutter, Class of 2005. “She was definitely a great coach. I learned a lot from her as a player of the game of volleyball. But she also challenged us to improve on and off the court. She challenged us to live our life for Christ, to be good role models off the court.”
Mutter is now the director of admissions at Vail Christian, as well as Alexander’s assistant coach in volleyball and head girls soccer coach at the school.
With the fledgling program often a speed bump on schedules for league powers like the Vail Mountain School and DeBeque — yes, DeBeque was a 1A state regular in those days — finding players to play volleyball was a challenge.
Rachel McCoy, nee Glandorf, Class of 2005, was a basketball player and eventually a track star when she was at Vail Christian. But volleyball?
Yes, volleyball, Rachel.
“She’s real special,” McCoy said. “She’s special to a lot of people. She motivated me and made me want to improve and get better at volleyball.”
And, as a Baylor alumna, Alexander and then-Glandorf talked about college.
“She talked about Baylor, and thought I’d do well there,” McCoy said.
McCoy also ended up in Waco, majoring in journalism and public relations, running track and eventually meeting a quarterback from another Texas school named Colt.
“She completely changed the game for me,” said Brooke Pettersen, nee Horan-Kates, Class of 2004, who now works at Slifer, Smith & Frampton. “She was so much more knowledgeable than any other coach we’d had. We all thought she was so mean, but she ended up teaching us that volleyball was much more than bump, set and spike.”
Sorry, she wants to win
First and foremost, Alexander considers coaching as a teaching role. That does not mean that wins and losses are not important. She likes to win on and off the court as she said in 2004.
“I’m a competitive person,” she said then. “My poor kids, when I play Sorry with them, I don’t like to lose. I send them home all the time. Charlie’s like, ‘Honey, it’s just a game.’”
Kylie was 10 at the time and Taylor 6.
The two have followed in both of their parents’ footsteps. Kylie went to state with the volleyball team in 2006 and 2007 — as the team’s stat keeper. In 2010 and 2011, she was the setter for the Saints on the floor of the Denver Coliseum.
Kylie and Taylor also have won two state pole-vaulting titles each — Charlie choked each time talking about it — and Taylor was the outside hitter the last time the Saints made it to Denver in 2013.
This year, Vail Christian is 15-2 going into road games at DeBeque on Friday and at West Grand on Saturday. The latter is the de facto Gore League title game. After that lies the postseason.
“We’d like to send her off at state,” Mutter said.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.