Because they combined to win the last seven state titles in Class 3A volleyball, any match between Eaton and Valley seems to take all the oxygen from the rest of the schedule.  The first of their two regular season matches is set for Thursday and per the norm, they go into the contest ranked first and second in the classification.
The rivalry, among the best in Colorado for any class and sport, has been one-sided of late with Eaton winning ten in a row.  Three of those wins are also in state championship matches as the Reds have beaten the Vikings in the finals each of the last three years on their way to four consecutive championships.  Valley last captured a state crown in 2012 and that’s also the last season they’ve knocked off the Reds, beating them 3-0 on October 18th that year.
Something different to the rivalry this year is the arrival of a new coach at Valley where Erin Marick has succeeded Rene Aafedt.  Marick won her program debut last week watching her team rally from a 25-11 first set loss to Lutheran to topple the Lions in four sets.
Sophomore Delaney Eckhardt led the Vikings offense with 19 kills in just 42 attempts.  It was the fourth time in her career she’s reached double figures in kills but her previous high was ten.  Madison Agripino (9) and Kendra Sotelo (8) added depth up front with 17 kills apiece.  Hallie Diederich directed the attack with 36 assists.
Thursday’s match will be the first of the season for the Reds.  They’re led by senior setter Chelsea Lockey who along with classmates Alicia Lovell, Darcie Kaiser, Kennedi Ingram, Alexis Lamoureaux and Ana Scott have never lost to the Vikings.  Lockey needs just 333 assists this year to reach three thousand for her career.  She’s totaled at least 817 in each of her three prep seasons.
Unranked Lutheran played well in the loss to Valley and the young Lions dropped to 0-2 with another quality loss to Platte Valley on Monday night.  Sophomore Payton Brgoch picked up 18 kills to lead the team against Valley and tied with Tori Bjorgum for the team lead against Platte Valley.  They each finished the match with 16 kills.  Abby Akers added eight and 13 kills respectively and Kennedy Johnson totaled 47 assists in the two matches.  Johnson added three aces against Platte Valley and Freshman Sabrina King handed out 19 assists.
Next up for Lutheran is a long road trip to Florida to compete in a tournament there.  The Lions are scheduled to play five matches over the two-day event.
Maybe the best match of the early days of the 3A season involved #6 Middle Park and #8 Faith Christian.  Tied 1-1, sets three and four were both decided by three points or less before Faith Christian took game five 15-10.  Alina Randal had 17 kills and Bella Keister 11 for the winners.  As a team, the Eagles finished with 47 kills and hit 33 percent.  They also rolled out a dozen aces including four apiece from Randall and Sophie Keister.  Middle Park earned 30 assists from Harley Phillips, 11 kills from Kiera Barr and 10 from Sammy Panthers.
Faith Christian had a much easier time on Tuesday sweeping Frontier Academy at home.  The Eagles now stand at 2-0 and now prep for a challenging battle with Eaton next Tuesday.  Two days later they face Resurrection Christian in Loveland.
Middle Park is off until next week when they host Estes Park.  The Panthers are favored there and will be in virtually every remaining match.  Obstacles left on the schedule are primarily the D’Evelyn Tournament and the annual Frontier League battle with Bennett.
With their season opener set against Arrupe Jesuit on Wednesday and a second match Thursday with Machebeuf, Bennett looks to continue their recent climb.  Three years, the Tigers won 13 games, improved to 16 in 2015 and last year made the jump to 21-4.  Despite that improvement, they’ve yet to close the gap with Middle Park in the Frontier; losing twice to the Panthers a year ago.
#5 Resurrection Christian bounced back from their opening loss to Yuma by moving past Lyons 3-2 on Tuesday.  The host Lions are ranked #3 in Class 2A but fell to 0-2 with the loss.  The tough early slate for the Cougars continues next week as they meet two more top ten opponents in Sterling and Faith Christian before spending Saturday the 9th at the Machebeuf Tournament.
One piece of good news for the Cougars was the return of sophomore Morgan Watson to the lineup.  She sprained her ankle against Yuma and played just one set in last week’s loss.  But on Tuesday she returned and played all five sets finishing with 19 kills.
#10 Pagosa Springs is already 2-0 thanks to a pair of sweeps over Bloomfield NM and Ignacio last week.  The Pirates, who head to the Glenwood Springs Invitational on Friday and Saturday, were led by Faith Ahlhardt (22 kills) and Morgan Lewis (12) in the two victories.  Ahlhardt added seven aces and Teagon Stretton five.
In Glenwood, the Pirates open against Steamboat Springs and Denver Christian on Friday with the Thunder serving the bigger test.  They’re ranked 10th in Class 2A.  Pagosa Springs won the matchup a year ago (2-0) behind four kills apiece from Ahlhardt and Lewis.  Overall, the Pirates won three of four matches in Glenwood Springs last year to finish third.
Of course, Pagosa Springs must get through #9 Bayfield inside the Intermountain League as the Wolverines have been the dominant team there the past decade.  The Wolverines this year are led by new coach Danica Frost who steps in for Terene Foutz.  Foutz’s daughter Maddie graduated last year but is a starter along with another former Bayfield standout, Kristie Hillyer, for the Colorado State Rams.
The Wolverines won’t open the season next week and will join 7th ranked Colorado Springs Christian as among the last teams to officially step on the court this season.  The Lions are also inactive this week.
With their 5-0 start, unranked Florence has nearly tripled their win total of last season.  The Huskies were just 2-21 a year ago.  The early schedule has not been difficult as the Huskies moved past Sierra, Rocky Ford, Ellicott and Center in week one but they were also 1-3 over the same stretch in 2016.
Sophomores Sydnee Connors (19) and Kaitlyn Reynolds (15) led the team in hitting through the first four matches.  Senior Brittany Cornella dropped in 13.
A fifth straight win came on Tuesday night as the Huskies swept Vanguard inside the Tri Peaks conference.  Lindsay Bufmack (13 digs), Haleigh Leibel (12) and Connors (10) were all strong defensively.  Next up is another league encounter with James Irwin on Thursday.
Buena Vista is a second Tri Peaks member hoping to improve on last year’s win total.  The Demons, 13-11 in 2016, swept Atlas Prep in their opener and next take on Gunnison Thursday.  A good early season test will come next week when they make their annual visit to the Machebeuf Tournament.