by Kyle Koso
Hotly contested points, no overwhelming swings of momentum, each team looking more than capable of holding up under the stress – not much separated the Believe 17’s from the San Luis Valley 17’s on Sunday.
That meant the Gold Division championship at the Bighorn Bash (part of Triple Crown’s Colorado Tournament Series) would test the depth of each roster, and the Believe 17’s had multiple athletes in proper position for the big points, sending the team to a 25-23, 24-26, 15-8 victory at the NORCO courts in Loveland.
The teams went three sets as well on Saturday to kick off the tourney (Believe won that one, 19-25, 25-20, 15-8), with Sunday’s final turning on kills from Nicole Sparks, Renee Sobania, Bella Tedrow and Avery Smith in the third set to build an 8-6 lead up to 14-8. The finishing blow was a scorched serve by Sobania that deflected hard to the right for an ace.
One other thing the full Believe roster did well was stick together during its one genuine moment of struggle, when a cluster of errors sent San Luis up, 21-16, in the second set. A couple of timeouts helped Believe (from Greenwood Village, CO) actually tie it back up at 22-all and 24-all, before San Luis secured the set on an ace from Sydney Jackson.
“We were talking about putting the pressure back on them and executing our game plan,” said Believe coach Makenzi Langer. “Back in that game, (San Luis) was playing it more safe, setting it over the net instead of attacking, and I kept telling our kids, if you go for it, I’m not going to be upset. You will see those errors, but we rallied back – nothing changes, stick to the game plan.”
“We try to focus on one point at a time, not to think we are out of this,” said Smith, a junior at Chaparral High School. “We chip away slowly. We really wanted to win; we were focused on our jobs and doing what we’ve known to do this entire season. It’s what we trained for.”
San Luis (Alamosa, CO) had a 22-20 lead in the first set, but it slipped away on a couple late slip-ups despite several great swings throughout the set by Jackson. A nice block from Charley Higham gave San Luis a 20-16 lead in Set 2, and an ace from setter Morgan Ortega pushed the lead to five points.
Sobania, a junior at Regis Jesuit, is one of several undersized hitters for Believe, but her persistence was rewarded with important points throughout, with a big kill to make it 11-6 in the third set.
“We stay positive and encourage each other,” she said. “Everyone is very supportive. Forget about it, move on, next ball. I can get frustrated sometimes, so it’s awesome to have such a supportive team.
“One thing Believe teaches, is how to hit with shot selection. I can hit a lot of different types of shots, and that’s why this is one of my favorite places I’ve played at. It’s helped me be successful.”
“Timing helps; we work with the setters a lot in practice to get that timing down, and I’ve been working on my vertical,” Smith added. “But we do focus on being a defensive and rallying team, since we know we aren’t super tall, and that’s how we come out on top a lot of times.”
Langer saluted her team’s depth and willingness to stay aggressive even as they tackle different positions and arguably don’t get to settle into specific roles, like most teams.
“We don’t have a true middle, we have one kid, a 15-year-old there, and a setter who jumps in there sometimes,” Langer said. “We have attackers who can hit on the outside, in the middle, on the right, and run all these different routes. It puts pressure on teams; as well as being great defensively and in serve-receive, we out-rally teams all the time.”
In the Pikes Peak Division, NORCO’s 14-2 took first place, with the NORCO 13-1 team winning the Longs Peak Division. The San Luis VBC 14’s won the Horsetooth Division.
COLORADO TOURNAMENT SERIES – This event wrapped up the four-tournament schedule for the CTS, introduced to the regional volleyball market as a way to help clubs evolve the talent on their rosters backed by Triple Crown’s insight and expertise in event production.
From the 175 teams that played in 2022, more than 1,000 athletes suited up for matches at the NORCO facility.
“Getting this tournament series up and off the ground was a labor of love. This was my first time event directing, and I didn’t get everything right but was lucky to be surrounded with great support from my division,” said CTS director Sarah Dannettell. “The relationships I gained with clubs and directors that supported CTS have been incredible. Seeing familiar smiling faces of coaches and players in this last one who were truly excited to be playing in a Triple Crown event made all the work and effort worth it.
“I got the opportunity to watch a match between a 13’s team and a 14’s team this past weekend where the final score was 32-30. The joy and excitement that the teams and parents had during the nailbiter gave me full body chills … giving all caliber of players the opportunity to have those types of memories.”
The President’s Day Summit tournament from the Colorado Tournament Series saw the FUNdamentals Volleyball Club Mystics 17’s take first place in the Gold Division. After back-to-back fifth-place finishes in the first two CTS tournaments, the Mystics won seven of eight matches, topping Northeastern Volleyball in three sets (25-21, 24-26, 15-11) for the overall championship.
Key stats from the tournament:
Kyla Adams – 16 aces
Ainsley Lynett – seven aces
Lauren Stanga – top hitting percentage at .31
Kendall Morrison – .29 hitting percentage
Team leaders in digs were Kyla Adams, Bella Kith and Lily Kunselman. The Mystics (based out of Littleton, CO) have nine players on the roster, including four 15-year-olds, and four 16-year-olds. Head coach and club director is Kendra Adams; assistant coaches are Heather Kunselman and Karen Stanga.
“Our team isn't one of the tallest out there, but our strong defense and our commitment to playing smarter helps us win more matches even against taller teams. The biggest advantage we have over other teams is our team chemistry,” said Kendra Adams. “We are a family who cares deeply for each other's well-being and values our team success more than our own personal successes. I love coaching these incredible, smart, kind, young ladies. Winning the tournament meant so very much to the players and coaches. We got close in the past two tournaments, so it was so fantastic to finally bring home the gold.”
The Mystics 16u team has played in all three CTS events as well. At the December Havoc tourney, they took second in the Longs Peak division; they placed first in the Horsetooth division in January and then took second in the Pikes Peak division at the February event. Head coach is Karen Stanga, assisted by Heather Kunselman and Kendra Adams.
Key performances from February:
Aliyah McDonald – 15 aces
Annemarie Stanga – 14 aces
Makenzie Green – .39 overall hitting percentage
Annemarie Stanga – .38 hitting percentage
At the most recent Colorado Tournament Series event over President’s Day Weekend, the Spikes Volleyball program out of Lone Tree, CO., enjoyed a couple of impressive finishes as the brackets played out at the NORCO facility in northeast Loveland.
The Spikes 14’s Z squad went 7-2 overall, taking on 16u teams on seven occasions, to earn the gold medal and top honors in the Pikes Peak division. The 14’s Z won their five matches in a row, all in straight sets.
Also making their mark was the Spikes 15 team, which took first place in the Horsetooth division. The 15s went 6-2 overall, going 6-0 after a bit of a rough start and winning three of those matches in hard-earned three-set fashion.
by Kyle Koso
If you suited up for the Eclipse 18's volleyball squad this past weekend, one thing you couldn’t quarrel with was the concept of playing time.
Between injuries and illness, the roster of the team from Cheyenne was boiled down to the minimum at times during the Mile High Madness tournament, having to go with just six players during Sunday’s run in the Gold bracket. Despite the positional adjustments the athletes had to make and the demands of two matches that went to three sets, the Eclipse stayed cool, had some laughs and punched their way to the finish line, taking first place with a 25-16, 25-15 victory over Momentum 16-2.
With no substitutions available, Eclipse relied on their collective experience to figure it out — most of the players are seniors, playing together for one last hurrah before graduation in May. Steady serving and physical presence were the big keys in the championship match, as Eclipse only trailed for a couple of points, early in Set 2.
“They are all really athletic and play for each other, so they are there to step up if I need them to play another position. When I call out for something (specific), hit it in this area, they try to do it, and that’s the challenge we want to meet,” said Eclipse head coach Patty Walsh. “A lot of these girls didn’t plan on coming out for club, so it’s not like we have big, high hopes. We want to have fun and let them go out and have a blast. We’re right on track.”
Against Momentum, Set 1 saw Eclipse take a quick 7-1 lead fueled by aces from Gracie McGraw, only to see it get tight again at 8-7. The roster responded with kills from Jenna Merritt, a couple aces from Lorali Moody, and a nice kill off a slide play from Kiera Walsh to make it 20-14. A clever dump on a set from Sophia Thomas and a kill by Nadia Farris sealed the deal.
Kiera Walsh (a second-team all-Wyoming high school selection this year) muscled up for big kills and an ace as Eclipse moved ahead 20-12 in Set 2, and Merritt mauled the ball in the final stretches, with three straight kills for the team’s final points of the tourney.
“Our team is very versatile and good at moving into different positions if we need to, and just getting stuff done,” Merritt said. “When you have a great team, it makes it a lot easier to see the whole court and understand where to go. We have some kinks to work out, some coverage stuff, but for the most part we feel pretty strong as a team.”
To get to the final, Eclipse won three-setters versus Believe 17’s and Momentum 17-2.
“We had a libero playing front row, and she’s not very big, but having her help block was big help for the team. We’ve all just bonded well,” added Kiera Walsh, who grew five inches just before her freshman year and decided to give volleyball a try — she’ll play collegiately at South Dakota School of Mines. “We go into every tournament expecting people to fight for what we want, and that’s to win at the end.”
The Pikes Peak Bracket was won by Core Values 17’s; the Longs Peak bracket champions was Spikes 14, and the Horsetooth division winner was Fundamentals 16’s. The next event for the Colorado Tournament Series will be the President’s Day Summit, Feb. 19-21.
by Kyle Koso
Having just entered their teen years, players on the WyoCity Crushers 14 Blue volleyball team know there are many matches to come, and a million swings left to take.
However, that’s no reason to stand around and let opportunities go unexplored.
The Crushers (Casper, WY) approached Saturday’s action at the Triple Crown Mile High Madness tournament with an aggressive mindset, typically taking on older teams and showing plenty of fight despite any shortages in experience or physical size. They posted three wins on the day, the last one a resounding 25-14, 25-13 victory over ClubOne 16-2 to set the table for a Sunday run in the Division 2 Pikes Peak bracket.
Other results for the Crushers on Saturday included a 25-7, 25-14 win over NORCO 13-2 and 25-14, 25-18 over ClubOne 15.
In the day’s finale, the Crushers muscled up in multiple positions, with Makieha Humphreys and Presley Pruitt swinging hard and with accuracy. Soryn Gold mixed in an ace and multiple kills along the way in a show of the roster’s depth, and Noa Hodgin also impressed, especially with a perfectly placed kill at the end of Set 2.
“We are very pleased. We are working hard, and there’s accountability here. They talk, communicate and never will give up,” said Crushers coach Anthony Gold. “Some of the aggressiveness is natural, and with that is, I want them to swing hard. When you get a good set, a kill is what you need to have, and if there’s a dig on it I tell them to switch it up, with a tip or to push it one side or the other. This is a good bunch of girls.”
Applying steady pressure worked great for the Crushers; ClubOne would try to bang their way back into the mix, but too many hitting errors made it impossible. The Crushers close the first set with a 10-2 run, and did the same in Set 2 with a burst of 11-3.
“It’s so great to be playing older teams and to be doing it at this level; it can be intimidating because we are a really short team,” Humphreys said. “If I see a block at the net, I try to swing through their hands, and just try to rip it through on a normal hit.”
“Whenever I get a good set and opportunity, I just go for it,” Pruitt added. “I do my best, try to hit it as well as I can. Before the match I was a little worried about playing a 16’s team, but in the match I see that we can do this. I like the chemistry we have, how we play together and get ourselves back up if we’re down.”
Defensively, the Crushers had solid moments as well, keeping plays alive and doing the hard work of getting back in system, when they could again let their offensive weapons get loose.
“Our (runs) feel good, but that can make you nervous, too, because volleyball can be anyone’s game on any day,” coach Gold said. “You have to keep working until it’s over, and then you can celebrate.”
by Kyle Koso
With all the options in their tool kit, the NORCO 17-2 volleyball squad is fixing to have a memorable run this club season.
Showing careful touch when needed and imposing strength when available, the NORCO team won all seven of its matches this weekend at the Avalanche Havoc, the debut event of the Colorado Tournament Series, powered by Triple Crown Sports and hosted at NORCO’s facility in northeast Loveland. The championship match with Shockwave 17-1 saw NORCO close with a 25-22, 25-14 victory.
In the 14 sets played, NORCO allowed opponents to reach the 20’s on just two occasions, pretty sturdy work at the front end of the club campaign.
“There is so much talent on this team; NORCO fields great teams at every level, but we feel we are a 1’s team anywhere else,” said head coach Erin Pavlin. “So the question is, will everyone buy into the system and each other in this process? That’s how far we’ll go, but there’s talent, especially on the pins - I have pins who can terminate everywhere.”
Set 1 against Shockwave was a tight affair and tied 20-20 when setter Emma Grace hit not one but two perfect short serves for aces, just slipping the ball over the net. Things were polished off by a noisy kill from Nicole Grove, with libero Taylor Tyser always in the right spot to make things work defensively.
“I wish I could take all the (serving) credit, but I’m getting awesome zones from my coaches, and all the information they provide has been huge for me and my teammates,” said Grace, 16, who attends Fossil Ridge High School. “We didn’t know what to expect, it being our first time together, so it was a weekend to try things out, and it worked out real well.”
“Emma is probably our most consistent server; if I give her a spot I’m confident she will hit it,” Pavlin added. “That type of point is so hard on the team it gets score on, and it’s amazing for the team that scores. To get that little separation there at the end got us in relaxed and then swinging hard in system.”
Grace had a superior dig on a tough ball in Set 2 that allowed NORCO to take 16-11 lead, and many other players were contributing big shots along the way. Dylanne Hardy had two kills that pushed the lead to 18-12, and both Ella Grimes and Skye Vancil were especially productive as NORCO made sure there would be no rally.
“We have expectations, and this is a good team with a lot of talent. I’m happy for the wins,” said Grove, who also attends Fossil Ridge. “I love playing with Emma; she’s a great setter and will push the ball outside when you don’t expect it, and can get you some one-on-ones. I can trust her every time.”
The Pikes Peak bracket was won by Premier 17; Spikes 14Z won the Longs Peak bracket and Spikes 15 Camilla prevailed in the Horsetooth bracket.
The next event in the Colorado Tournament Series will be the Mile High Madness, set for Jan. 15-16.
by Kyle Koso
When it comes to impressive debuts, the storylines just kept unfolding Saturday at the Avalanche Havoc volleyball event.
The tournament marked the arrival of the Colorado Tournament Series, offered by Triple Crown Sports, which welcomed 40 teams in a mix of age groups and bracketed to create the most useful level of competition for each squad. Matches are being contested at the nearly brand-new 10-court NORCO complex in northeast Loveland, which only just opened in March of 2021.
And certainly, there was plenty of fresh potential within the ClubOne 16-1 team, which entered the day having had just a handful of practices together. But in their first look in uniform, the 16’s looked seasoned and prepared, winning four matches and setting themselves up for a title run when Sunday’s double-elim championships are decided.
ClubOne (based in Platteville, CO) wrapped up Saturday with a 25-18, 25-20 victory over Core Values 17-1, doing a nice job of unsettling the taller Core Value team with excellent serving throughout. Even better for ClubOne, they faced a severe deficit in Set 2, trailing 12-3, before storming back and scoring the last seven points of the set to secure the win.
“I knew we’d pull it together, but we’ve only had four practices, so I told the girls let’s go out and have fun. And that’s what we did,” said 16’s head coach Madison Fisher. “When we got behind, I told them to take a deep breath, let it go because the mistakes are behind us. Let’s just stop their run and have ours instead.”
“Those were mostly our unforced errors; we tried to pick up the communication and believe in each other,” said Maddie Loeffler, 16, who attends Platte Valley High School and had four aces in the final stretch of the Set 2 win. “My serving has been developed by Ryleigh Haynes (head coach at Platte Valley), learning about mental toughness and being able to stay in it.”
ClubOne continued to show a measured mindset by not getting rattled at the length and size of Core Value. A couple of noisy kills by Charlee Russick (standing a modest 5-foot-6) pretty much announced that ClubOne wasn’t going to be bothered by what the tape measure read.
“It can be intimidating, but I work on my vertical and try to look through the block. I do what I can to work around it,” said Russick, 16, who attends Berthoud High School. “I think serving is probably the most important thing we do; if you don’t serve well, how are you going to score the points you need?”
“When I saw their size, I was a little worried, but our team is fast enough,” Fisher added. “We’re also pumped about our serving; we maybe missed five serves, so that means no running (penalty laps) for them.”
The ClubOne 16’s are seeded sixth and will play the Core Value 18-1 team early Sunday in the 12-team Mixed Division Gold bracket. The top four seeds earning first-round byes are Shockwave 17-1, NORCO 17-2, Believe 16’s and Eclipse 18’s. In the Pikes Peak bracket, the top seed is Attitude 16-2 Marc.
The Avalanche Havoc tourney will be followed up in the Colorado Tournament Series by the Jan. 15-16 Mile High Madness, the Feb. 19-21 President’s Day Summit and the April 9-10 Bighorn Bash. Many of these teams are expected to compete as well in Triple Crown’s Rumble in the Rockies, May 6-8, at the sprawling Gaylord Hotel grounds in Aurora.
“The whole goal of the Colorado Tournament Series is to give teams and clubs, who don’t necessarily get heard, an opportunity to have their needs and wants filled,” said TCS event director Sarah Dannettell. “We wanted to give teams a lot of matches; everyone got four matches today, which is unheard of in other tournaments, and they’ll get two more tomorrow.
“It’s great, this early in the season, for teams to try different lineups and get together to understand what kind team they’ll be. We also wanted to provide all caliber of teams a chance to play in a very elite setting. We didn’t cut any corners or do anything we wouldn’t expect to give our high-end clients. That’s one reason why we are having so much success.”