Upward trend continues for Devils | VailDaily.com

Upward trend continues for Devils

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
EV volleyball preview KA 8-29-07

In case you didn’t hear their footsteps creeping up in 4A Western Slope last year, put your ear to the ground now.

Eagle Valley volleyball, which quietly finished third last year in the league, then, as the No. 4 seed at District 8 regionals, knocked off the No. 1 team, is back with plenty of returning starters and a slew of skilled newcomers.

“There’s a whole different energy in the gym this year,” said Devils coach Rob Crawford. “It’s an energy I’ve never felt before, and it’s making my job easy.”

The Devils, who got a taste of the postseaon last year after a rough 2005-2006 season, came into the preseason hungry for more.

“We’ve done 4-mile runs and it’s not like we’re mad at the coach ” we’re proud because we can do it, and are in shape and ready to go,” said senior Allissa Hollis. “We’re running suicides as hard as we can every time and blocking as hard as we can every time.”

Crawford has high sights for the squad.

“They are up to a bigger challenge this year,” Crawford said. “They are expected to do better in the league, and there’s really no limit as to what they can do.”

And the girls know what they want.

“Since Battle Mountain took the league last year ” which was amazing, I’m really happy for them ” now nobody knows what’s happening. We have potential to be strong and take the league ” that’s our goal,” Hollis said. “Battle Mountain lost a lot of starters, but they are still strong and intense. We still have a lot of competition in the league, but we’ll be big competition for everyone else.”

The Devils lost four seniors from last year, two of whom played nearly every point, although Hollis thinks there won’t be any dropoff.

“Everyone knows Whitney (VanVoorst) and Kelsey (Foster) set,” Hollis said, referring to the junior tandem, “But we also have a lot of new assets.”

It’s often difficult to judge just how good a team will be in the preseason. But the Devils have the luxury of some high-intensity training sessions.

“We have 14 good kids and it’s a good scrimmage,” Crawford said. “I think the competitive level is way higher than it’s been in the past. Nobody is sitting back comfortable in their positions because there is always someone there to take their position.

“If someone is having a hard time, we have no problem putting someone else in.”

Hollis, who along with VanVoorst will serve as captains, will be a force in the back row for the Devils.

“She’s really leading the team vocally,” Crawford said. “That’s really important to us. And, she passes the ball lights-out.”

Out of a 6-2 offense, Eagle Valley has plenty of options even before the kill attempt.

“Kelsey and Whitney ” when they are in the front row ” we’ll have them passing as well, because their passing is so good,” Crawford said. “It’s not everyday you see your setters passing also.”

Angela Phillips at middle hitter, should be a force at the net

“She’s not tall, but she’s quick and has one of the highest blocks on the team,” Crawford said.

Ryanne Wilson, who had a good season at middle last year, is back along with fellow senior Kim Willey. Transfer Ariel McDaneld will contribute at outside hitter or defensive specialist. Seniors Casey Bair and Jackie Eberhardt provide height up front.

Outside hitter Whitney Wright has company in cousin Shelby Wright ” one of several talented young players who will see time on varsity.

“We have 15 kids who will be playing varsity at some point this year, and there are four kids competing every week for varsity,” Crawford said.

Much like the Devils have plenty of depth on the court, they have a deep on the bench with coaches. Sean Weatherred and Sara Cross return, while former Vail Mountain and University of Colorado at Boulder standout Lara Bossow should be a key addition.

“She’s so good with the kids,” Crawford said. “She knows when to kick them in the butt and when they need some closeness. She brings all of her ideas from CU, which is great.”

Last year, the Devils got stung with a bit of inconsistency.

“We started off really good, then kind of dropped, then towards the end, we really picked it up,” Hollis said. “We wan to keep the momentum from the end of the season.”

With 14 league matches, the difference between several positions may be just one win, as was the case last year, so the Devils know they can’t afford to take any nights off.

“Some of the really strong teams I’ve been on, we play really well against the strong teams, but against a team that’s not up to the same playing level, we drop down,” Hollis said. “This year, we’re preparing not to drop down to a level and stay constant at our level.”

Crawford thinks if the Devils don’t get too far ahead of themselves, they can stay at their own level of play.

“I really want them to focus on the one point,” he said. “One of our sayings that comes from Sean is that the most important play in volleyball is the next one. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on where we’re going to finish in the league.”

After a tournament this weekend in Aspen, the Devils host non-league opponent Grand Junction Tuesday.

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.

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