Saints senior trio aiming for state |

Saints senior trio aiming for state

Cara Leonard Photography | Special to the DailyFrom left to right, Vail Christian seniors Ashlyn Gruber, Kylie Alexander and MacKenzie O'Brien hope to help the Saints to the state tournament.

Yeah, I’m a broken record at times. I’ll talk with parents, coaches and student-athletes constantly about cycles when it comes to high-school sports.

And, if anyone doubted the theory of cycles, we have scientific proof with an 8-1 Battle Mountain football team at 1-7 Eagle Valley tonight. (The world has turned upside down as for most of my 14-plus years here, it was the opposite.)

And while football is big, check out what’s happening at Vail Christian. The little school that almost wasn’t is making some noise. Saints volleyball has won two 2A Slope title in three years and is bidding for its second-consecutive state berth this weekend at regionals in Gunnison.

(You know the format, people. It’s a round-robin – Mountain Valley at 11:15 a.m., Norwood at 12:30 p.m. and Sierra Grande at 3 p.m.)

Stipulated, a lot of things have come into play for Vail Christian’s volleyball. It has a superb coach in Cathy Alexander, who’s seen the team from its inception to the present. Memorable players have come through the program – Rachel (Glandorf) McCoy, Brooke Horan-Kates, the Parker sisters, the Bowles sisters and Francii, to name a few. And the current crop of Saints like Gracen McGuckin and Paris Baker and others have come into fill graduation losses of years past.

But the collective heart and soul of this squad are its seniors – MacKenzie O’Brien, Kylie Alexander and Ashlyn Gruber, libero to setter to outsider hitter.

All senior classes are special, but this one takes on an extra level when the coach is also known as Mom to one – we’ll let you guess – the three have known each other forever and often play together in other sports.

O’Brien’s job is simple one, in theory. Just put your body in front of a rocketing volleyball and turn that speeding bullet around in a productive way. She’ll be looking down the barrel of attacks from Norwood’s Lindsey Stindt Saturday.

It takes a tough person to do this. You don’t see many volunteers from the Saints football team willing to come out of the stands to try, and I don’t blame them.

Of course, O’Brien gets good look at power in practice everyday from O’Brien. Ashylyn’s dad is Paul Gruber, who played left tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1988-99. Ashlyn hits the ball like dad would an incoming defensive lineman.

As with the good ones, when she hits the ball, it makes a different sound. Our photographers always take good pictures, but sometimes they nail it. My favorite Gruber picture came against Battle Mountain earlier this season where she was literally coming out of her jersey to strike the ball.

Connecting these two is Alexander. Physically, she resembles dad, but she is the coach’s daughter on the court. She runs the show as the setter, but you can see that she’s added dimensions to her game when it comes to being more of an offensive weapon as well as leadership.

As a reporter what’s really fun is to listen to Mom the coach and Kylie on the tape recorder after a game. Though they talk to me separately, they both use the same phrasing and use of person in their speech.

And, oh, by the way, the three are great students, too.

The fun news is that these three seniors aren’t done yet, though they would like to be late for basketball practice – hoops starts next Friday which is also the first day of the state volleyball tournament. (Be patient, Doug Bruce.)

The Saints had their first winning basketball season (12-10) with these three last year, and coach Bruce is probably pretty pumped for this winter. And they’re pretty good at track – Alexander won the 1A state pole-vault title (who’s her coach in that?) last spring and Gruber, running her third 800-meter race, took silver.

This cycle’s been a lot of fun, and we hope it continues.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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