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.”