Grand Valley enters Dist. 5 tournament with optimism
If this season is any sign of the future, the Grand Valley volleyball team is going to be a force to be reckoned with on the Western Slope.The Cards, under first-year head coach Jenni Hirneisen, improved from a long stretch of last-place finishes, taking seventh this year. The six wins the team earned to take seventh were also good enough to give Grand Valley the No. 7 seed in this weekend’s Class 2A District 5 tournament in Rangely.Whitney Ashcraft, a captain and one of four seniors – along with Lindsey Tonder, Lauren Schbert and Amanda Gunter – on the team, says this year is heads above the previous three she has played for the Cards.
“This season has been really amazing for me as a senior. We have had a lot of girls step up this year,” said Ashcraft. “We are all really close. We are pretty tight-knit.”The closeness has turned into success on the court, as Grand Valley seems to improve in every match it plays. The Cardinals, who won two out of three of their last matches, say that improvement has come as a result of talented girls honing their skills with guidance from Hirneisen – a Grand Valley grad who walked on to Colorado State University’s volleyball team. “I knew coming in that we had a lot of athletic girls, but not a lot of well-trained volleyball girls,” Hirneisen said. “They have improved and have exceeded my expectations.”One of the girls that has really stepped up is sophomore Libero Erin Vanderpool. Vanderpool started last season on junior varsity, but was bumped up after a few Cardinals were injured. This year, she underwent another change, learning how to be a Libero.
“Erin Vanderpool, our Libero, she has stepped in and makes a big difference on offense and defense,” Hirneisen said. “Erin has really helped our defense, we play strong in the middle.”Vanderpool is just as excited to be a key part of the team and is enjoying her new position.”I love playing Libero. It is fun to slide around and if we don’t have a good pass or something, it is really fun to hit from the back row,” she said. “And I feel depended on. I just want to go out and play hard for our seniors, since it is their last year and play hard for our coach in her first year.”Today, Grand Valley will hope that all its improvement and hard work will pay off as it starts play in the district tournament. The Cards will first face No. 2 West Grand at 4 p.m., then play No. 3 Vail Mountain at 8:30 p.m. Grand Valley’s final pool play match will take place against Paonia at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.
If Grand Valley can advance from pool play, which means being in the top two of the previously mentioned four teams, they will play in the semifinals Saturday afternoon, and as the Cards are hoping, make it to the championship game.”We have definitely improved all season,” Hirneisen said. “We are going to work hard this week and play hard this weekend. …The best part about the team is that we don’t make mistakes very often.”Grand Valley will have to make it to the championship match to advance to regionals, as No. 1 seed Rangely has already locked up one of the two spots. While that may seem like a long shot as a No. 7 seed, but the Cards are optimistic underdogs.”I am excited for this weekend and I think we can even go further,” Vanderpool said. “I am excited to play all of the teams, we have seen them all before and sometimes not played the best against them. I think this time we can go out and shock them.”
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