Vail Mountain at Vail Christian: The full rundown
Yes, this is bigger than usual
Before last weekend’s Meeker game, I ran into Vail Christian head of school Steve O’Neil, who said something to the effect of, “You really are hyping up our game against Vail Mountain.”
Who am I to disagree with the head of school? When I was in high school back in the Dark Ages, disagreeing with the whatever we’re calling a principal these days never led to anything good. (Note to self: Shut your mouth, Freud.)
Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to the possibility of a Vail Mountain at Vail Christian game (tonight at 7 in Edwards; only come if you are ticketed, please), but not just for hype’s sake. I cover multiple rivalry games per sport per season in this job.
Tonight’s rivalry game means more because it actually has postseason implications. If VMS wins, the Gore Rangers win the Northern Division of the 2A Slope and play for the title on Saturday at the South Division champion. Vail Christian goes to the title game with a win over VMS and a Rangely victory over Meeker.
Yeah, Vail Christian needs a little help for their ideal postseason dreams to happen — Rangely beating Meeker would be an upset, but the Saints don’t need four disparate things, including a random meteor strike and a solar eclipse, for them to win the North.
And this gets to O’Neil’s point, I am hyping the heck out of this game because it so rarely happens that our local rivalries, be they Battle Mountain-Eagle Valley or the 2A Vails, actually come with postseason implications.
The last time Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley football played a game with playoff implications for both was 1985, 36 years ago. (My principal at the time was David Pratt in eighth grade, and I was in trouble often, surprisingly for running my mouth.) I got here in September 1997, and I can only think of Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain going head-to-head for a title in volleyball for a few seasons in the 2010s and the two schools in boys’ soccer in 2008 and 2009.
Upon further review, there was also the 1998 Battle Mountain-Vail Mountain soccer game, which was essentially win-or-go-home. (Everyone was 3A back then.) The Huskies won in overtime on an Alberto Saenz empty-net goal in an instant classic.
As for Vail Christian and Vail Mountain, this hasn’t happened. One school is usually dominant in volleyball — the VMS teams of Lara “Tree” Bossow in the early 2000s or the Saints at assorted times during coach Cathy Alexander’s reign after that. Girls soccer is all VMS right now and basketball has been Vail Christian’s province.
That started to change at last year’s district tournament when VMS upset Vail Christian in the semifinals on the way to claiming the title. This year, VMS has shown that wasn’t a fluke.
We are in a period where one school has a veteran corps, skill at every position and postseason experience for a long run and we’re not talking Vail Christian basketball. We’re talking about practice. OK, disengaging Allen Iverson mode, we’re talking about VMS with the Pattison brothers, Devin Yarde, Becker Dienst and Beck Sapp, to name a few.
We’re in a different world, and we’re not talking COVID-19.
This swing in the rivalry doesn’t mean that Vail Christian’s chances of winning tonight are chopped liver. The Saints winning would be probably be in the truest sense an upset, but nothing jaw-dropping. (In fact, the Meeker Cowboys just love and support Vail Christian tonight in their efforts. Gotta love how quickly that changes.)
This team wins if …
Tonight’s game, not surprisingly, comes down to style. Vail Mountain can run, but it’s probably not overly prudent to do so. (Never run with Vail Christian.) VMS isn’t huge — nobody’s 6-foot-8 — but the Gore Rangers do have solid size and length at all five positions.
Vail Mountain benefits from playing half-court game at a slower pace — not deliberate — than Vail Christian would like. Get the ball into Yarde and Cole and MacKay Pattison and let them eat during what should be an advantage against the Saints’ post players.
Conversely, the Saints want to run and fire 3-pointers for 32 minutes. Yes, Vail Christian can bang in the paint a bit and VMS has a perimeter game, but a final score in the 50s or 40s clearly favors the Gore Rangers, while 60-plus pointsprobably means a good night for the hosts.
A prime example of why VMS wants to play a half-court, slower game was Battle Mountain-Eagle Valley boys’ basketball last year. The Devils were playing the role of Vail Christian, a perimeter team that liked transition. Battle Mountain with Liam McKenny was VMS.
The Huskies just gave McKenny the ball down low and Eagle Valley had no answer. McKenny went for combined 66 points in two victories. Substitute the Pattisons and Yarde for McKenny, and that’s the game plan in East Vail — pound the paint with the initial offensive attack and outrebound the Saints on both ends of the court.
Vail Christian’s been a bit of a puzzle this year on offense, especially compared to the past. Fun fact: The Saints’ 66 points in their win over Soroco on Monday was the most points they’ve scored all season. Last year’s team scored 66 in 13 of 22 games. (OK, it wasn’t a fun fact, but cut me a break.)
Given the smaller sample size of 2021 (10 games played going into the regular-season finale), we still don’t know what Vail Christian’s offense is yet, a strange thing to say in March. And that’s a scary proposition for VMS.
Is VMS tip-toeing into Vail Christian’s garden tonight, hoping that the pretty tulips don’t turn into flesh-eating plants if the Saints find their trademark 3-point game? Ladies and germs, Murphy’s Law applies in rivalry games.
If a team has been struggling with an aspect of its game all season, there is a tendency that the missing skill suddenly tends to appear in rivalry games.
Jan. 23, 2018: Battle Mountain hosts Eagle Valley. The Huskies are on their way to a 13-10 campaign and the playoffs. The Devils are heading to 7-16, playing a running style that emphasizes 3-pointers. Eagle Valley has struggled all year making shots, which is why it ends up 7-16.
Naturally against a better team in the Huskies, the Devils hit 15 3-pointers and won by the ridiculous score of 110-102.
The Saints don’t need to execute a full Alec Moritz, Jamison Lee, Hayden Sticksel 3-point aerial show, though we’re pretty sure coach Sheldon Kuhns wouldn’t mind.
Fun fact No. 2: OK, it’s not overly fun, but relevant. If maxpreps.com is to be believed, Vail Christian is 50-for-238 from beyond the arc, good for five 3s per game this year. Last year, the Saints had 150 treys in 22 games, or 6.8 per game.
Just say that Vail Christian has a better night from downtown than their season average of five. Again, we’re not talking supernova-hot, but if the Saints just hit eight or nine 3s, that’s as much as 12 more points in a game.
In a related development, three of Vail Christian’s four losses this season were by 12 points or fewer — the exception being a 13-point defeat to Denver Jewish in the season opener.
So yeah, we’re hyping this a little more, Steve. See you all at the game, of course, at a safe social distance.