Blow the whistle and send it over! As usual, volleyball in Colorado is loaded with reasons that competition on courts and entertainment value in stands and on screens will touch 10-plus in 2018.
For this preview, we reference the CHSAA preseason volleyball polls as a targeting guideline. Then I refreshed my notes, researched more prep, and sourced head coaches from sixteen Class 5A programs. So let us share about players and teams in position to earn success this season.
The Fossil Ridge nod for #1 in the preseason polling is justified. Head Coach Paul Shimek has very experienced seniors ready to activate for one last glory run at the preps level. The core group — who played together since freshmen year — is following up a semifinals appearance in ’17 after winning the state championship the previous season. Expect a powerful campaign from Riley Zuhn (Nebraska), Catie Semadeni (Montana), and Mataya Megson (Lehigh) along the net while libero Charlie Durbin (Rollins) controls business defensively.
2nd-ranked Chaparral – also a semifinalist from ’17 — is built for another strong season. Head Coach Amanda West has confidence in a balanced group of veteran upperclassmen supported by dependable younger players. And when Chap’ has any Daltons, it’s a good thing. The presence of lengthy junior Julianna Dalton and senior middle Abby Heimlicher (Brown) on the front row along with Kira Thomsen (Montana State) as a 6-rotation leader are strong components for the Wolverines.
This will be Sally Moos’ 35th season as the head coach for 3rd-ranked Cherry Creek. #Respect. Nine seniors graduated after the Bruins’ “fun and magical” march to the finals this past November. There will be some rebuilding and new connection-making — but capable veterans and intriguing new parts are in place for the big picture plans. All-state outside, Katie Sherman, returns along with L/DS Molly Chapman. Otherwise, a core group of JV players will step into system with a pair of newcomers — including a 6’7 freshman middle, Carter Booth (Minnesota).
Cherokee Trail is ranked #4 because the time may have arrived. All that raw talent has been seasoned by hard-knocked court experiences in a conference and a state that will grow you up. Head Coach Terry Miller returns a strong group that is healthier, more experienced, and more confident after delivering successful statements at the annual off-season tournaments. Class 5A assists leader, junior Sydney Cole (Northern Colorado), will set powerful pin options like junior Sami Campion and senior Alyssa Parmelee with senior Savannah Spitzer (Colorado Mesa) approaching from the middle. Defensively, the Cougars will trust their super-fast libero, Trinity Nguyen.
Although 5th-ranked Fort Collins graduated two key seniors from their 2017 tournament team, Head Coach Jared Rudiger describes his program as stronger, deeper and eager this season. The Lambkins are a gritty ball control brand and senior libero Erika Jones (Wyoming) will again be a rock solid reason why they win matches. Junior setter Sabrina Vandelist will run the offense for a third season with junior Hannah Serbousek out on the pin and all 6-rotations.
The reigning champs are ranked 6th before the new season starts. Castle View graduated eight seniors after their title-takin’ journey in 2017. Head Coach Scott Dowis optimistically notes that success this season will depend on promising youngsters getting up-to-speed with the leaders like all-state junior Leanne Lowry (Iowa) — who is moving to outside attack. The tone-setter for 2018 will be senior Morgan Leadens — now the libero for the SaberCats.
After earning a finals berth in 4A last season, Valor moves up. And Class 5A is very aware. Head Coach Kaitlyn Hastings emphasizes the importance of the 7th-ranked Eagles leveraging “big stage” experience that will add to their wealth of next-level talent. The all-state outsides return, Courtney Lane (Central Oklahoma) and Lily Thomason (Auburn) as do senior attacker Ashley Larson (Duquesne) and junior middle Anna Davis (Tulane).
The note on #8 Rock Canyon that stands out most prominently is that the Colorado player-of-the-year has graduated to the Big East. However, we all might consider embracing the now with some instinctive intelligence. Keeley Davis may be gone — but almost all of that 2017 tournament team returns — including senior Laryssa Myers attacking the sets of senior Abi Leitner while junior Macy Rushall leads a formidable block for Head Coach Angela Nylund-Hanson and the Jaguars.
9th-ranked Rocky Mountain has been on a roll that includes a state tournament berth and 23 wins in 2017. The program seeks to maintain that success momentum with a new head coach, Glenn Gainley, and without a D1 middle lost for the entire season due to injury. The Lobos will look through the bright side of the net with a trio of very talented seniors: DS/L Annika Larson (Arizona State), S/RS Myles Hilbert, and MB Emma Werning.
Mountain Vista completes the preseason Top 10. Been there. Been doin’ that. Better respect the possibility of another march to tourney time at the Coliseum. Three seniors expected to lead Head Coach Doug Schafer’s Golden Eagles: outside hitter Raegan Phillips (Belmont), defensive specialist Gabby Brown, and setter/attacker Cassie Pyles.
The upperclassmen who will lead Head Coach Stephanie Schick’s Chatfield squad in 2018 have only known seasons that finish at State. No reason not to trust what the Chargers might accomplish… again. Three seniors — all multi-year starters — are OH Hope Theander, MB/RS Julia Geiger (UCCS), and DS/L Alexa Alameddin.
Denver East volleyball made its way back to State in ’17 and Head Coach Tarah Olmstead enthusiastically insists her girls and their community are committed to keep returning. Key roles will have to be claimed and developed while the Angels follow the lead of stud seniors in all-state attacker, Qairo Bentley (Virginia Commonwealth), and college-caliber middle, Lexi Blair.
Another of the teams to watch coming out of the brutal Continental League is Highlands Ranch. Junior middle Cassie Davis (Baylor) is a 6’4 centerpiece sliding next to senior setter Jill Borgerding. Although her surgery recovery schedule may keep her out a few early matches, Head Coach Lou Krauss will have junior libero Libby Borgerding (Nebraska-Omaha) keeping balls off the floor in 2018.
Although Eaglecrest has trended young and surfed the learning curve in recent seasons, Head Coach Tanya Bond is returning an entire group of experienced and hungry starters — including senior OH/S Lorrin Poulter (Denver), junior outside Gabby Vogt, and 6’2 junior middle Audrey Black (Iowa). Put the Raptors back on your volleyball radar.
Another brand-name Centennial League program, Grandview, is elevating expectations. Head Coach Rob Graham likes the potential of his ball control players and some young and lengthy blockers. The Wolves will depend on point scoring and overall defense from returning leaders, junior OH Elsa Lamphere and senior MB Hannah Skurcenski.
Three programs in the preseason Top 10 play in Larimer County. And none of those teams sleep on conference rival, Loveland. The numbers indicate some poll voters don’t dismiss the Indians either. Head Coach Sonja deBord notes an overall balance in role strengths with the returners being senior setter Raquel Roybal, senior middle Jaxi Melby, and powerful sophomore OH Maddie Kinney.
Notes regarding postseason adjustments in 2018:
- Regional qualifiers and bracket pairings for Class 5A will be announced on Monday, October 29th.
- Regionals will conclude by November 3rd. The three days of state tournament play will be November 8-10.
- The state tournament has been extended to a three-day event. Pool play has been deleted in favor of double-elimination bracket play leading to the single-elimination semifinals.
- Rounds 1 and 2 at State will be played on Thursday and Friday – matches on both days beginning at 8:00am. Semifinals will begin at Noon on Saturday. The championship will be at 6:00pm on Saturday, November 10th.