Ranch, Vista to compete for state title

Posted 11/4/08

It’s a long and grueling road to qualify for the 5A state volleyball tournament. After 19 regular season contests, a four-match district …

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Ranch, Vista to compete for state title

Posted

It’s a long and grueling road to qualify for the 5A state volleyball tournament. After 19 regular season contests, a four-match district tournament, and then a three-match regional tournament, the eight teams left standing will have certainly earned their spot.

Count Highlands Ranch and Mountain Vista among those elite eight.

The Golden Eagles may have gotten the better of the rival Falcons in Continental play, claiming their first conference championship in the program’s history at 11-0 while the Falcons were runner-up at 10-1 thanks to a Sept. 25 battle won by Vista 3-2. But the second time around saw Ranch power its way to a 3-0 victory in the Region C final on Vista’s home court, winning 25-19, 25-18, and 25-17.

As a result, the Falcons go into states with the higher seed.

“I think we are a better team than we were when we played them earlier,” Falcons head coach Lou Krauss said. “We’re passing better, connecting with our middle hitters better, and we’ve been a little more consistent on the outside. It was a real good tournament for us. Hopefully we can continue to get better and peak at states.”

“It was disappointing for us and it wasn’t at the same time,” Vista head coach Kevin Cary said. “We were going against a rival, it was for bragging rights, and we had to prove we were supposed to be there. We knew it was going to be tough. It was a long day and I think our girls were tired. That’s no excuse because Highlands Ranch was just as tired; they just wanted it more than we did.”

Play in the 2008 state tournament begins with pool play at 8 a.m. Nov. 7 at the Denver Coliseum and continues at 8 a.m. Nov. 8. Pool play splits the qualifiers into two separate brackets and each team plays against the other once. The top two teams from each pool will then advance to a crossover bracket that serves as the semifinals. The 5A championship will then be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 8.

Should any teams finish pool play with identical records, tiebreaker games will be played to 25.

Seeded fourth for states, the Falcons (24-2) open play Nov. 7 at 8 a.m. against fifth-seeded Columbine (22-4) and then take on eighth-seeded Doherty (21-5) at 2:15 p.m. Pool play continues the morning of Nov. 8 when Ranch battles top-seeded and undefeated Cherry Creek (26-0) at 8 a.m.

The Falcons do have some familiarity with Columbine, which was third in the Jeffco, and Doherty, which was runner-up in the Colorado Springs Metro, as they scrimmaged recently during the fall break. That experience should help, but Krauss knows one of the most important factors cannot be scouted.

“There are a lot of equal teams and everyone has strong spots and weak spots. What it comes down to is who’s ready to play match after match,” he said. “We’re as good as anyone in our pool, so it’s going to be who gets the breaks and who can execute the best.”

Key players for the Falcons will be All-State nominees Holly Sabatka and Emily Nielsen. Krauss touted Sabatka as a strong all-around player while Nielsen earned 2nd Team All-Continental honors as a middle hitter. Erica Winkler, who led Ranch in kills this fall, was a First Team middle hitter while Hannah Margheim (outside hitter) and Leylin Marroquin (defensive specialist) also received 1st Team honors. Kelsey Thompson (setter) and Megan Buckingham (outside hitter) also received Second Team selections.

“We have a lot of good athletes and everyone works hard and wants to do well,” Winkler said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge at states, but we’re clicking as a team right now and winning regionals was a big confidence booster. We’re looking to come out on top this weekend, or at least get to the final four.”

This is the second straight year Ranch has qualified for states. In 2007, the Falcons went 1-2 in pool play and defeated Lewis-Palmer in a tiebreaker match before falling to Columbine in a second tiebreaker to finish out of the top four.

“Everyone at state is a good team, but if we play our game like we know we can then we should do really well,” Sabatka said.

Seeded sixth for states, the Golden Eagles (22-4) begin play Nov. 7 at 10:30 a.m. versus third-seeded Rampart (22-4) and then take on second-seeded Grandview (23-3) at 3:30 p.m. Pool play continues Nov. 8 at 11:45 a.m. versus seventh-seeded Lakewood (23-3).

Vista is familiar with Grandview, the runner-up to Cherry Creek in the Centennial Conference, having lost to the Wolves 2-0 in a tournament held Sept. 13. But Cary and his players look forward to facing new teams in this bracket.

“It was tough at regionals because we walked in knowing we had already beaten all three teams and now they’re going to want to beat us,” Cary said.

“Facing some new teams, we won’t have any preconceptions about what they’ll do,” senior Ariel Turner said. “We’re going in looking to play our best and go all the way. We need to not let the other teams get in our heads and just play our game and focus on our side.”

Turner, who will commit to play at Division I Purdue University, is a key cog for the Eagles as she leads the team in kills and blocks. The senior has also been nominated for All-State honors and was named a First Team All-Continental selection at outside hitter. Her teammate, Ellie Penland, also earned First Team All-Continental at setter with Sarah Miller (outside hitter) and Kendall Turner (middle hitter) being named to the Second Team. Miller was also nominated for All-State honors.

Like their crosstown rivals, this is the second straight year the Golden Eagles have qualified for states. But with last year being the first time in the program’s history, Vista is hoping a little more experience at the big show goes a long way toward an improved showing.

“The core of our group has been here before, so this is not going to be this jaw-dropping experience anymore. Now they know a bit more of what to expect,” Cary said. “They have a new focus now. It’s not just the experience anymore. They set goals at the beginning of the year and taking state is one of those goals. They know they have to work hard for it and the time they’ve put in shows they have the heart and desire, and that they want it.”

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