With the 2017-2018 volleyball season beginning this week, this year’s 4A title chase will be a tight one.  Defending state champion Lewis Palmer is ranked #1 and looks to take home their third title since 2014.  The Rangers will face adversity this year with a new head coach, Wade Baxter, and pressure from within their conference with Cheyenne Mountain entering the season ranked #3.
The Rangers will be led by sophomore, McKenna Sciacca, a second team all-state selection a year ago, who outpaced all other 4A players in assists with 939, 88 more than the next highest player.  Despite her youth, Sciacca played an important on a veteran club that went the season unbeaten including the three-game sweep of Holy Family in the state finals.
Holy Family begins the new season ranked second overall, and will follow the defensive leadership of seniors Jody Gallagher, Julia Giltner, and Rachel Siurek who combined for 452 blocks in 2016.  On the other side of the net, junior, Ali Travis was honored with a first team all-state spot last year, and she will look to continue her dominance for the Tigers from last year where she pounded out 332 kills.
Joining Lewis Palmer in the Pikes Peak league chase is Cheyenne Mountain and that’s nothing new.  The schools are tied with six all-time volleyball championships apiece and together they’ve won the last nine titles in Class 4A.  Cheyenne Mountain began the current run with five consecutive crowns from 2008-12 and Lewis Palmer has captured three of the last four.  Cheyenne Mountain snapped the current string by downing the Rangers 3-0 in the 2015 title match.
Both Pueblo West and Valor Christian made deep post-season runs last year falling to the eventual champions and runners-up.  Their reward is top five billing this year as the Cyclones are 4th and Eagles 5th to open the season.  Neither team has won a state championship but each is hoping this is the year they break through.
Pueblo West is led offensively by three top-five hitters in efficiency last year in seniors Emily Hanenberg, Olivia Sherman and MaLeigha Menegatti.  Helping set up the top-flight offense is senior Brilane Manchego who finished last year with 841 assists, the third highest total of all returnees in Class 4A.
Valor Christian also returns good depth along the front line as Lily Thomason led the Eagles with 252 kills, Courtney Lane was fourth with 173 and Anna Davis contributed 127 during her stellar freshman season.  One concern is who will set up those three as the top three setters from last season all graduated.
Behind Valor Christian, the second five in the Top 10 is very tight consisting of teams challenging for league championship and those returning high-level talent from a year ago.
Niwot and Silver Creek should again battle for the Northern league championship.  Silver Creek won four more games overall than Niwot but the Cougars won the league title based on two head-to-head wins over the Raptors on their way to a perfect 14-0 conference mark.  The Cougars check in at #6 in the first CHSAA poll of the year with the Raptors two steps back at #8.
Offensively, Niwot brings back two players, Emma Falk and Mackenzie Fidelak who were in the top ten of hitting percentage for returnees.  Silver Creek counters with Rylee Anderson who is the top returning hitter in Class 4A with 441 kills.
Berthoud opens the season as the favorite to push Holy Family for the Tri Valley championship.  They’re ranked seventh in the pre-season polls.  Bounced early in the post-season the last couple of years, the Spartans have been on the short end of the playoff bracketing with losses coming to teams who reached either the semifinals or championship match.  Players to watch include Julie Ward, a senior with 376 digs a year ago, and Casady Berry with 52 aces.
Finishing out the top 10 are Thomas Jefferson and Eagle Valley at numbers nine and ten.   Both clubs reached the state tournament but neither made it out of pool play.  Thomas Jefferson was seeded 9th and swept Montrose 3-0 in their first pool match but then ended their season with a three-game loss to Pueblo West.  Eagle Valley failed to advance to the Final Four despite a #2 overall seed.  They were knocked off by Niwot (3-0) and Holy Family (3-1) in the pool round.
The Devils should make another state tournament push behind returnees Becy Glutova (249) and Emma Lassa (212) who were first and third on the team in kills last season.  They helped the club run through the Western Slope without a loss (12-0) and a repeat of that effort is possible.
TJ’s top returnee is Siale Sandoval who was second in kills last season with 281.  Junior Grace Jarecke is also back on the floor after churning out 682 assists.