Saints make their return to state
GUNNISON – School’s out for winter.
Vail Christian volleyball repeated as regional champions Saturday up in Gunnison and is going back to the 1A state tournament this week and that means no school for the Saints student body on Friday.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a big crowd down there,” Vail Christian’s Kylie Alexander said.
That would be a not-so-subtle hint, people. Take Interstate 70 to Denver and turn when you see the big building on the right. Break out the blue and white and get ready to yell. You know the routine.
This is, after all, Vail Christian’s fourth state appearance – 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011.
Yet this one is special, given that Alexander, Ashlyn Gruber and MacKenzie O’Brien are seniors and that coach Cathy Alexander has a bit of vested interested in this team.
“With Kylie, and having known Ashlyn and MacKenzie so well and so long, it’s just special. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The Saints (23-3) downed Mountain Valley, 19-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-15. Vail Christian won Round 3 against Norwood, 25-21, 20-25. 25-16, 25-23. Though that was the big one, the ladies still had to finish up with a win against Sierra Grande to avoid tiebreakers.
“Omigosh, Coach pulled us aside, all the seniors, and told us we were playing for our dream,” O’Brien said. “It was a lot of fun.”
And they got it, sweeping Sierra Grande, 25-14, 25-17, 25-10.
“It’s really exciting, especially as a senior,” Gruber said. “You don’t want the season to end. There won’t be another one.”
So it’s on to the Denver Coliseum where the Saints will be joined by Norwood from Region A, Wiley and Springfield from B, Otis and Simla from C and Fleming and Pawnee from D.
The Saints needed one game to get their footing in Gunnison Saturday. They lost a set to Mountain Valley before getting rolling. Norwood came right after the Mountain Valley match, but Vail Christian was ready.
“I love facing them. It’s a different atmosphere,” Kylie Alexander said. “They have Lindsey (Stindt) and she hits straight down. You don’t usually see that until state, but we see that at districts and regionals with them.”
Since this was the sixth meeting in the last two falls between these two teams, they know each other well. Last year, the Mavericks won the first two (regular season and districts) before the Saints took them down in regionals. This year, the Saints won in September, the Mavs last week at districts and Round 3 went to Vail Christian.
Nonetheless, Kylie said, “Our goal wasn’t to beat them. The main goal was to beat Mountain Valley and Sierra Grande and have (Norwood) beat them too. That way we knew we were going to state. The extra win was nice.”
The Saints watched Sierra Grande play and saw the Panthers had trouble with blocking. That would be a green light for Vail Christian.
“It was a fun game,” O’Brien said.
And as they went along, the Saints were realizing that they were getting closer to a return trip to state.
Junior Kyra Webb served up the ace, the final point of the match, to send the Saints to state.
“I believe that’s right,” O’Brien said. “I was so excited. I don’t remember Kyra serving. No, that’s right.”
“We screamed a bit,” Gruber said.
“The girls came together as a team with a late-season change. It was incredible,” Cathy Alexander said. “They played like a team. They may not have had the biggest or best player, but they built each other up and made each other welcome. Everyone had a job to do and they did it.”
News and notes
So, Vail Christian, how are you going to celebrate going to state? “Personally, I have a lot of homework to do,” O’Brien said. “We want to get home and go to bed,” Gruber said. “We’re all a little tired. We’re celebrating with sleep.” … Let’s just have it noted that a certain person – Charlie Alexander – was doubtful last year that the Saints could make it back to state. When asked about that feeling as the season progressed and the Saints were looking more and more like they were going back, Alexander had a simple and wise explanation, “Good coaching.” Well played, sir.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.