Steamboat Springs The newly formed Steamboat Springs club volleyball team wasted little time writing its name on the state map.
In its first exposure to club ball, the Steamboat team went 5-0, dropping just one game in five matches at a recent Rocky Mountain Regional seeding tournament in Colorado Springs.
Opponents included teams from Arvada, Westminster, Aurora, Lyons and the Morgan County area.
Reputation plays a large role in determining preliminary seeding. Thus, coach Susie Ritter said, her team was placed in Division 4, one of the lowest at the tournament, because it is a first-year program.
"We heard club was tough," team member Shelley Dunlop said. "We thought we were going to get our butt kicked."
They still have that chance. The Steamboat girls are in the age 17 division, but at their upcoming tournament on Sunday, age is just a number.
The 18-, 17- and 16-year-old teams are put in power leagues based on perceived ability and past results. The Steamboat team is in Division 7 with two other 17 teams and two 18 teams. Should it post impressive results this weekend, the team will most likely move up a division, Ritter said.
The top division consists of the cream of the crop among the 18-year-olds, Ritter said.
Last year, the Front Range Volleyball Club won the Junior Olympic title, providing some indication of just how good club volleyball in Colorado has become.
The nine members of Steamboat's 17 club team are mainly juniors that played a JV schedule during the fall, going undefeated, before cheering on their varsity counterparts in November's state tournament.
The girls on Steamboat's club team eagerly await the chance to start on varsity in the fall, and club volleyball was the best way to begin preparation for next season.
"This is going to help our team," Hannah Gary said. "We really need to get ahead of the game."
"I love these girls," Ritter said. "The fact that they want to get better every minute is a coach's dream. They want to get to where the seniors were at last year, and they are doing it. They are definitely motivated, and they are getting tons of experience."
More importantly, they are getting that experience as a team. Steamboat hasn't had a club volleyball program before. Wendy Hall, the high school coach, can't legally coach any of her players during club season. Because Ritter served in a limited, volunteer capacity during the regular season, she is eligible to coach the club team.
However, Ritter knows the system Hall runs and how she teaches certain aspects of the game, so that's what Ritter is doing during the club season.
The familiarity the Steamboat girls have with each other and with Ritter was evident in Colorado Springs. Although many of the teams they competed against were combinations of top players from various schools, Ritter said it was obvious the opposing girls all had different techniques and were trying to work in one system after all learning different ones in high school.
"I thought we would be at a disadvantage but we weren't," Ritter said.
Gary said the team will play mainly in Colorado, but may travel as far away as Kansas City later this winter.
"Practices are getting more intense," she said. "Everyone cares."