Vail Christian spikers state-bound
GUNNISON – Eight for state.For the first time in its eight-year history, Vail Christian volleyball is heading to the 1A state tournament. The Excellent Eight took second in the 1A Region A Tournament Saturday in Gunnison, securing a trip to the Denver Coliseum next weekend.”I’m not quite sure what to say yet,” said Saints’ coach Cathy Alexander a little while after North Park beat La Veta in the final match of the day, ensuring the Saints of a state spot.”I think we are all excited about it right now, but we’re happy for Jackie (Parker) more than anything (with her) being the senior who leads us,” said Vail Christian’s Molly Brooks.As has been the case all season, Saturday’s success drew upon the solid play of all eight Saints. But it was the inspired leadership of the team’s lone senior, Parker, who helped Vail Christian come from 2-0 down to win its opening match against La Veta.”Jackie in that match was phenomenal,” Alexander said. “She went flying out of bounds to get a ball and fell into a chair and hurt her leg. She went back into the match crying and that was huge. I said (to the team), “If she can do that, you can do anything.’ She had an indentation in her shin that went in an inch, and when it swelled later on, it went out an inch and was bleeding.””It really gave us a lot of motivation to play even harder, so (Jackie) didn’t have to work as hard,” Brooks said.After dropping the first two games, the Saints came back to hand La Veta only its second loss of the year in a tight 17-25, 21-25, 26-24, 25-22, 15-8 match.”To be honest, I’d have to say God was probably with us in that match,” Alexander said. “The girls just went out and gave it all they had to give. La Veta is a good team, and worked hard, too.”
“We knew we could do it. We just had to act upon it,” Brooks said. “We weren’t the underdogs coming in.”The injured Parker led the Saints with 12 kills and four solo blocks, followed by Kristin McGinty, who tallied nine kills and solo blocks. “Kristin played phenomenally in middle,” Alexander said. “She had big blocks, key hits and kills.”Brooks was also a force at the net with 11 solo blocks and two kills. Kelly Bowles had three kills, one block and an ace, while Allie Parker added two kills.”When you get eight kids playing well together, it’s hard to beat a team,” Alexander said. “Other teams had two or three really good players, but as a whole team, we can take advantage of that.”
With two matches left to play, the Saints were in good position to make some history. Following a three-hour break, Vail Christian faced a solid North Park team that beat the Saints last Saturday in five games for the District 1 title.”For some reason, we weren’t all there mentally,” McGinty said. “We were playing kind of scrappy, but not as aggressive as we were (against La Veta).”The Wildcats downed the Saints, 25-23, 25-17, 25-18, and Vail Christian had 10 minutes to prepare for its match against Mountain View, who was 0-2 at the time.”We talked about it and I told them it was their shot, their opportunity. (Mountain View) wasn’t going regardless (of the outcome). The girls stepped it up,” Alexander said.After winning a close first game, 26-24, the Saints cruised in the final two, 25-13 and 25-21.”That first game was the key to building the confidence back up,” Alexander said. “They stepped back and realized they could win, and did it decisively.””We didn’t talk about it and didn’t say anything out loud, but it was like ‘we have this’ and we knew we had it under out belts,” Brooks said.McGinty provided an intimidating presence at the net for the Saints.”They had a really good outside hitters that were hard to block,” McGinty said. “They were scrappy and picked a lot of stuff up until a lot of their girls got hit in the face and they backed off their defense.”Waiting game
With the Saints sitting at 2-1, they had to wait for North Park (2-0), to play La Veta (1-1), to see whether there would be a three-team playoff.Instead of acting as a casual observer, Vail Christian formed its own cheering section for North Park.”It’s weird. I’m not used to cheering for another team,” McGinty said. “Now I know how the crowd feels – it’s stressful. We knew (North Park’s) habits from playing them before, so it was almost like you were watching your own teammates.”As the Wildcats closed in on a regional title, the Saints became bigger and bigger North Park fans. “When North Park scored that 24th point (in the final game), there was excitement,” Alexander said. “The girls couldn’t hold it back – there was a lot of cheering and screaming.”Right as the the Wildcats celebrated their win, the Saints where right there to greet then with a line of handshakes.”They were rooting for us when we were playing,” Brook said. Both teams will represent District 1 in the eight-team state tournament.By going 2-1 Saturday, the Saints improved to 21-6. “Everybody did so awesome chasing down every ball, and never letting it hit the floor. We were staying aggressive and hitting other teams in the face,” McGinty said.Setters Britni Beagley and Brooke Bowles split time distributing the ball well, while Sammantha Francis contributed on defense.
While Alexander was thrilled that her lone senior gets to play volleyball in mid-November, she thinks that the performance speaks for eight years of Saints volleyball.”It’s not just for Jackie, but for all the kids who built this program before,” Alexander said. “Every year we get a little better and stronger, so everyone who has come before is a part of this.”And Alexander hopes the progression continues.”We have one senior, so all of these kids will come back with the same expectations and desire to repeat it,” Alexander said.But before the 2006 campaign comes to a close, there’s one more week of volleyball.”We are doing awesome as a team, and we go in with nothing to lose,” McGinty said. “We went into regionals with the worst record (of the teams) and did well. We go into state with the confidence that we can win.”
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Class 1A State qualifiers by regionRegion ANorth Park (24-3)Vail Christian (21-6)Region BKit Carson (25-1)
McClave (17-9)Region CFlagler (19-6)Otis (21-5)Region DFleming (25-1)Peetz (20-6)Vail, Colorado