Success is a result of the system for Devils’ spikers
Everyday is an interview for the Eagle Valley volleyball team.
“We are show-me coaches,” said head coach Karl Talcott. “Competitiveness is huge. You think you’re better, well, show me. (Everyone) gets opportunities everyday in practice to prove themselves.”
It seems, as the Devils prepare for another run at state, as they host their regional for the second-straight year, that Talcott and his coaching staff of Lisa Wipperfurth and Cory Strickler are on to something.
The Devils (21-3) were supposed to be a rebuilding team last year, after losing five starters to graduation. But, after cruising to a 16-3 regular-season record, along with winning their district last weekend, the Devils look look anything like a team that is going through growing pains, even though captain Trista Sandoval is their only senior.
“I think the thing I see around the state, and particularly with some of the teams that are coming here this weekend, you see programs that don’t ever truly rebuild. They are always reloading,” said Talcott. “We wanted to be somewhere near that level. We feel were probably close to that this year, more than we’ve ever been.”
When Talcott took over the Eagle Valley program three years ago, he implemented two core philosophies: a uniform offensive and defensive system for all levels of the program, and an abiding principle that every job was open to competition, every day.
“First off, we want to find a group of girls who have a certain level of talent and a certain chemistry,” said Talcott. “But, after that, we throw them all in the mix. If you go past the starters, or in some cases past the second-string players, and you have that No. 3 and No. 4 who are really close. Only good things can come from that.”
Junior varsity coach Wipperfurth is also a huge believer in all three levels of the program working on the same page, even though the Devils run a fast-paced college offense.
“When we came into this system, we started running the exact same system at all three levels, which can be somewhat painful at first,” said Wipperfurth. “We don’t dumb down the system for the freshmen to what is easy for them to learn. We teach them what the system is supposed to be at the varsity level, so that it becomes second nature over time.”
Watch a Devils volleyball match and you can see about what Wipperfurth is talking. Regardless of whomever is inserted into the game, the Devils always seem to be running like a Ferrari – smoothly.
“We feel like we’ve got a machine that’s needs six good parts on varsity on the floor, at any given time, and we’ve got a program with 33 different parts, so it gives us a lot of flexibility,” said Talcott.
Added Devils junior setter Whitney Donohue, “Having the same rotation, the same system and everything, at every level – you learn it as you go, so that when you get to the varsity level, you just have it,”
Talcott and his staff also harp on the idea that age doesn’t mean anything in terms of playing time and use that philosophy to keep older players from getting to be comfortable, as well as to motivate younger players.
As Talcott puts it, being fair and being honest is always the best thing in the long run.
“It makes the starter work harder, because they don’t not want to start,” said Talcott. “There are people who have a problem conceptualizing that your age doesn’t matter between the lines. We are a huge advocate of that. We are continually reminding the team, “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you don’t have to be polite when it comes to diving for a ball.”
Donohue, who finished third in 3A in the regular season in assists with 591, is one such example. As a freshmen, she floated up to J.V. before she was brought back down to the C team, simply because she wasn’t performing. From there, she worked her way back up the ranks, not taking anything for granted, and finally ended up in the starter’s role this year.
“I wasn’t working as hard as I should have been, or playing as well as I should have been. So they moved me down to light my fire,” said Donohue. “I started to work a lot harder, and everything I did was so much better.”
Added Talcott, “We’re always having conversations at length about what an individual’s potential is and how they can realize that potential, technique-wise, or tactically, or attitude-wise, or a combination of those three. There’s usually a pretty good understanding by the time they get to the varsity level about where they fit in and what they can do.”
At this weekend’s regional, the Devils play host to No. 2 ranked Eaton (20-5), accorrinding to Rockypreps.com, Yuma (17-8) and Ignacio (16-4).
If they can finish as one of the top two teams, they will then earn a return trip back to the Denver Coliseum for next weekend’s state volleyball tournament. Eaton, who is out of the Patriot League, should be the biggest test for the Devils, but Ignacio out of the Intermountain and Yuma out of the Patriot-Northern Plains conference, will also be tough.
The Devils will be ready for their interview though, Saturday.
Nate Peterson is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 608 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.