Vail Christian aims for third straight trip to state |

Vail Christian aims for third straight trip to state

Ian Smith
Vail, CO Colorado
Daily file photoVail Christian's Sammantha Francis dives after the ball during a match in the state volleyball tournament last season. The Saints are hoping to make it to state for the third season in a row this year.

EDWARDS, Colorado ” It just keeps getting better for the Vail Christian volleyball team.

As if making the state tournament the last two years wasn’t enough, this season, Vail Christian opens a brand-spanking-new gym.

The fresh digs features two courts, locker rooms, a training room and a weight room. It’s safe to say the team is fired up to play in the new gym.

“We’re really excited,” senior Allie Parker said. “It’s so nice to actually play on our own courts. It’s fun. Now, we don’t have to wait until like seven o’clock to practice.”

The improved facilities could translate into more wins this season ” a tough task considering the Saints finished 22-7 last year. Before moving into the new gym, Vail Christian coach Cathy Alexander held practices with 18-25 kids all using one court. Now, every member of the team has ample opportunity to improve their play.

The Saints will play in their new gym for the first time on Sept. 6.

Team returns talent, experience

When the Saints take the court for the first time, fans will see a few familiar faces. A number of players return from last year’s state tournament squad.

Big hitters Sammantha Francis and Parker are both back. The senior duo will get plenty of feeds from setter Brooke Bowles. Last season, Bowles broke her arm in the first match of the state tournament.

Now fully healed, Bowles will play a huge role in the Saints 5-1 offense. The team will look to bump the ball to the junior, so she can set it up for a big kill.

“I have Allie Parker and Sammantha Francis coming back for my experienced hitters,” Alexander said. “They are both strong hitters. Brooke Bowles is coming back as setter. She has phenomenal hands and has a great feel for the game.”

Another senior being slotted for playing time is Michelle Discher.

“I have some great leadership with my seniors,” Alexander said. “Michelle is one of those hard workers with a great heart. She has developed some great skills from her hard work.”

Vail Christian doesn’t have as many players as recent seasons ” with only 18 out this year ” but that doesn’t mean there isn’t depth. Beri Dwyer and Hannah Vancuren will both see plenty of game action this season. Dwyer proved her worth last year during the state tournament.

“Beri is big, fast and very quick,” Alexander said. “She is very competitive. She has been playing competitive tennis for years, so competition doesn’t scare her. It doesn’t freak her out.”

Alexander said a slew of sophomores and freshmen will also play with the varsity throughout the season.

Challenges await

The Saints punched their ticket to the state tournament the last two years playing in Class 1A, but to complete the three-peat this season, Vail Christian must beat stiffer competition after being pulled up to Class 2A. That means matching up against bigger schools and tougher opponents.

In order to meet the challenge, Alexander said her Saints need to continue to play as a team. Last year, the tight-knit Vail Christian squad overcame more talented teams en route to the state tournament.

“It’s really important (to play together),” Parker said. “Last year, the games we didn’t play so well, we were out there as individual players. Working as a team is really important. Our team is really welcoming. The new girls that did come in have seen us play and were connected to our team in some way last season.”

With so many underclassmen likely to play this season, improving throughout the year is also critical to Vail Christian’s success.

“The girls that are coming up are concentrating on developing,” Alexander said. “Not only winning, but the team aspect. We try to focus on each girl and each kid, support the others. That makes the cohesion of the team so much better.”

The Saints open their season during the Labor Day weekend at the Grand Valley Tournament.

Sports writer Ian Smith can be reach at 970-748-2935 or

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