Ready for the big time

Four Sailor volleyball players taking their games to Division I

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Former Steamboat Springs volleyball players Val Finch, Bayli Stillwell and Katie Carter have spent the summer increasing their muscle mass to a point where sometimes they struggle to put on their pants.

The three are eager to get back on the volleyball court after daily loads of weight training, running, jump training and Pilates. But all three understand the transition from high school to Division I athletics will be slightly easier if they are in great physical shape before arriving on campus next week to begin practices for the 2003 season.

Stillwell is on a full scholarship to play at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. Carter will play at UCLA in Los Angeles on a full scholarship, as well. Finch, recruited as a walk-on, will play libero, or defensive specialist, at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

"It won't be easy to leave," Stillwell said. "But I think we'll adjust well."

A fourth member of last year's Sailors team, Allison Griffing, was recently extended the invitation to join North Carolina A&T's volleyball team on a full scholarship, after coaches reviewed a tape of the Steamboat middle hitter and were intrigued by what they saw. Griffing was recruited to play outside hitter at the Greensboro, N.C., school.

Last season, Steamboat finished second in the state tournament in Class 4A. From the seven seniors on that memorable Sailors squad, four will be playing at the Division I level.

"I thought about that the other day," Carter said. "I was like 'We're from Steamboat. Oh my gosh.'"

Wendy Hall enters her 15th season in charge of the Sailors' program and said the offseason work the players put in prior to their senior year was reflected in their almost magical season, proving big-time players do live in small towns.

Until this year, Hall only had one volleyball player go on to play at the Division I level. Now, she has five.

"It shows what kind of talent we had in this class," Hall said. "I think the other thing it reflects is their passion for the game. They don't want it to end. I hope their legacy will be that these younger kids will have seen what they accomplished and want to be a part of it within their own age class."

But the hard work didn't end with the conclusion of the school year. If anything, it picked up. Carter's preseason workout book from UCLA models a lab workbook complete with detailed instruction, photo descriptions and charts to mark progress.

All will be expected to arrive on campus ready to learn, which Stillwell said is exciting.

She went to a camp at James Madison earlier this summer, and the coaches already have sped up her approach to the net.

Last year, the skill and superior talent of Steamboat's team carried them to the state finals.

In college, they will be the inexperienced players of the bunch.

"I'm so excited to play all the time," Carter said.

Finch said her room is mostly packed up. She becomes a Lobo on Aug. 6. Carter and Stillwell are both flying out to school Aug. 7 with practice set to begin Aug. 8 for both.

Griffing was in Jackson Hole, Wyo., working this summer, but she is already en route to Greensboro.

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