Vail Christian spikers cap year with honors
EDWARDS – Yes, they just got done building the gym at Vail Christian but the school’s Wall of Fame might need a little expanding at the rate Saints volleyball is going.
Likely the best season – certainly at Class 2A – brought a bumper crop of postseason honors for the Saints.
Brooke Bowles, Beri Dwyer and Kylie Alexander made first-team all-league, while Dakota Francis, Ashlyn Gruber and McKenzie O’Brien picked up honorable mention. And the coach? She’s pretty good, too. Cathy Alexander is the 2A Slope’s Coach of the Year.
The postseason haul is a statement of how far the program has come – league champions in 2009 – as well as its future – four of the contingent are underclassmen.
“This was definitely the closest team I’ve experienced in the four years I’ve been at Vail Christian,” senior Bowles said. “It shows how talented we were, and those sophomores had a lot to do with it. It’s a great class. McKenzie’s a great passer. I’ve never seen a person jump as high as Ashlyn and Kylie’s my setter. They have a big future.”
The postseason awards parade must start with seniors Brooke and Beri. Bowles was a setter in coach Alexander’s 6-2 system – more on that later – but also became an offensive dynamo up front.
A superb volleyball player, Bowles was a coach on the court.
“She’s the one player you could count on for a set, to go to the left side for a hit, to be a middle,” Cathy Alexander said. “She’s one of those special kids who can do anything and is willing to do it. She was also able raise issues with me. It’s difficult for kids to talk about an issue involving Kylie with me because of the mother-coach thing. She handled it and she was very assertive in making sure we stayed together as a team.”
Dwyer vaulted into prominence this season, giving the Saints a muti-faceted look. This was critical because opposing teams who tried to tag-team Bowles paid for that mistake dearly.
Dwyer also showed herself to be a tough customer. She sprained her right ankle at districts against Vail Mountain and the Saints faithful were concerned that the injury might derail the team’s hopes.
“Beri thinks she’s invincible and she said that all the time,” Alexander said. “If someone was feeling sick, she’d say, ‘Coach, I’m invincible.’ Then she got hurt and we got her back to the bench. She then said, ‘I’m invincible. I’ll be back.”
Dwyer did return for regionals and checked something of her to-do list.
“I was excited to get all-league,” Dwyer said. “That was one of my goals this year.”
All-league can be a difficult thing when Mom’s the coach and the player in question is her daughter. For those not familiar with the voting process, a coach cannot vote for his or her own players.
What’s more, looking at all of the local volleyball teams which have won league title this decade, their setters all won the honor. For the trivially-inclined, that would be Tiffany Allan and Molly Etters (Vail Mountain), Brooke Horan-Kates (Vail Christian), Britney Brown and Alexa Corcoran (Battle Mountain) and Becka VanVoorst (Eagle Valley).
So welcome to the club, Kylie Alexander.
“I didn’t actually hear what award I was going up to get,” she said. “Once I got up there, it was like, ‘That’s kind of cool.’ Usually, only juniors and seniors get it.”
Kylie says the borders are defined in her relationship with Cathy. When she’s on the court, Cathy is Coach, and off it, she’s Mom.
This, however, has led to some funny moments in practice. In a 6-2, the Saints have two setters, Alexander and Bowles. One time at practice, the coach got a little confused.
“The funniest moment I’ve had was when Brooke was making some mistakes, and (Coach) was yelling at me when she should have been yelling at Brooke,” Kylie said. “She was yelling my nickname all the time. I guess she was just used to yelling at me.”
In all seriousness, young Alexander is the reason that the Saints hitters had success.
“First of all, I’m a setter, too,” Bowles said. “It all starts with a pass from McKenzie. Then Kylie has to put up a good set or I can’t hit. Kylie did a great job. She’s my setting buddy. I’m going to miss her.”
Both Alexanders – the coach and Kylie – return for next year as do all of Vail Christian’s honorable-mention selections.
O’Brien is the team’s libero, and as Bowles mentioned, she was the one to start the transition to offense.
“The thing about McKenzie is that she makes her job look easy,” Cathy Alexander said. “She’s not flashy. She’s not diving. She’ll dive if she has to, but she usually is already in the right spot. She just reads the game well.”
Francis is not the tallest middle-blocker in the history of volleyball, but she made up for it in hustle and leadership.
“She’s loud on the court and we need that,” Alexander said. “She gets her arms up and she swings down on the ball and can place the ball well. She’s very energetic and very consistent.”
Gruber showed a dramatic learning curve in 2009, going from a role player last season to a mainstay this fall.
“I’m very proud of her,” Alexander said. “She came on nicely through the end of the season building in her confidence. She’s going to be a great player. She has quick arms and a quick swing and a killer serve.”
And to top it off, Alexander was named the Coach of the Year by her peers. As is typical in these cases, Alexander downplayed it, talking about how it was a reflection of the players and so on.
The Saints were 10-13 in last year in their first foray into 2A volleyball last year and 20-5 and league champs in 2009, so nice try, Coach.
“I think she deserved that award so much,” Francis said. “She pushed us all season to do our best. She knew our potential, even if we weren’t sure of it.”
“Cathy’s a great coach,” Bowles said. “She makes practice fun, but challenging. She cares about you not only as a volleyball player, but as an individual as well. If we didn’t have her, we would have gone nowhere.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By league rule, we cannot write all-league stories until every team in a sports league is done with the playoffs. There are also instances when coaches ask us to hold off on publishing stories on winners until they have their banquets. Along theses lines, here’s the Daily’s schedule for remaining all-league stories:
Huskies cross country: Sunday.
Devils softball: Coming soon.
VMS volleyball: Banquet is Tuesday.
Huskies volleyball: Banquet is Wednesday.
Devils, Huskies football: First round of the playoffs this weekend.