Regional volleyball: Birds of a feather PLAY together
COAL RIDGE TO HOST REGIONAL
Coal Ridge High School’s volleyball team will host the Class 3A Region 11 Tournament, which takes place Saturday at Coal Ridge High School. The Titans (17-6), the 3A Western Slope League champions this year, will host Eagle Ridge (18-2) at 3 p.m. Saturday and St. Mary’s Academy (12-11) at noon Saturday. The winner of the three-team tournament will advance to the 3A State Championships in Denver on Nov. 7 and 8.
PARACHUTE — The bond that the players on the Grand Valley High School volleyball team have this season is no more evident than when they go to lunch every day.
It’s not just because the Cardinals sit at the same table or eat together. It’s because most of them carry lunch boxes, the type that are typically reserved for children 10 years younger. They bear characters like Ironman, Hulk, Spider-Man, Cinderella and, of course, Lightning McQueen.
“Just about everyone has them,” senior outside hitter Megan Smith said with a smile before pointing to her lunch box and saying: “Mine’s the best, though.”
Of course, there’s more uniformity planned as the Cardinals (13-10 overall) prepare to play in the Class 3A Region 3 Tournament at Bayfield High School near Durango on Saturday. They’ve planned a pajama party for the bus ride to the southwest corner of the state, even convincing coach David Walck to join in the fun and wear a onesie.
“I’ve learned over the years that it’s better not to fight it,” Walck said, begrudgingly.
That bond that the Cardinals have formed is one of the primary reasons why Grand Valley is playing in the regional round of the Class 3A state tournament for the third consecutive season. They may have their work cut out for themselves, as the Cardinals will open with Estes Park (3-20) out of the ultra-tough Patriot League, and host Bayfield (20-3), which won the Intermountain League title and has been to the 3A State Championships in Denver the past four years.
It’s the previous two seasons for Grand Valley that have helped build it into a formidable team. Part of that has come from playing in the tough 3A Western Slope League along with the experience they gained playing at the regional level two consecutive seasons. Last season’s regional at Manitou Springs was a good example, as the Cardinals finished just a win away from advancing to the 3A State Championships.
“We have a lot more confidence this year,” said senior outside hitter Kyra Chenoweth, whose 23 kills against Olathe on Oct. 25 set a school record. “We showed what level we can play at when we were there, and we know that we can reach that level again.”
The team’s camaraderie is what helped them compete for a league championship even after Grand Valley started the season with five losses in its first seven matches. They’ve started clicking down the stretch — the Cardinals have posted a 9-3 record in all of their matches since Sept. 27.
And they’ve started clicking because of the friendship they have off the volleyball court.
“We might all do different sports as the year goes on, but volleyball is where we’re all together,” junior Allie Dovey said. “There’s a lot of things our team chemistry does that brings out each of our attributes on the court, and not all of them are present if we’re not all here.
“But that’s apparent in our lives, too,” she continued. “Because of the strong friendship we all have, we really rely on each other everywhere.”
Walck emphasized that the players on his team will have to rely on each other Saturday, especially against a Bayfield Wolverines squad who’s best player, 6-foot-6 Kirstie Hillyer, has already committed to play volleyball at Colorado State. Still, the Cardinals have a slew of haunted houses in Durango they hope to visit tonight before tournament play begins Saturday morning.
After all, what better way to enhance the already strong team chemistry than with a team-bonding experience right before the tournament?
“This is a special group,” Walck said. “We want the experience to be enjoyable, win or lose. These girls have been together a long time, and they don’t want the season to end.”
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