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.