A drop in junior varsity numbers may pay dividends for Steamboat Springs volleyball.
The popularity of the sport forced the freshman, junior varsity and varsity squads to separate in past years, junior varsity coach Amanda Anzalone said.
This year, however, the junior varsity practiced with the varsity because there were only 19 players between the two teams.
"It gave a lot of the younger kids a chance to really work on their skills to compete in practice," Anzalone said. "For years, that really will be great for our program. They got more touches and repetition."
The junior varsity team -- with one freshman, some sophomores and juniors -- went 14-4 overall and 12-2 in the Western Slope League. The only league losses came against Rifle and Battle Mountain.
"It was a fantastic season," Anzalone said. "One of the biggest challenges is, because it is a mix of three grades a lot of time, it is difficult for girls sometimes to find their place and play with younger girls or older girls. We struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season trying to figure out how to play a complete match. I would say the highlight was when those girls figured it out."
Seven junior varsity players -- Erin Gleason, Shannon King, Heidi Lord, Lauren Marias, Bre Murray, Natalie Nichols and Lizzie Stoll -- split time between junior varsity and varsity this season. Gleason, who would have been a varsity starting middle blocker, recovered from shoulder surgery in time to play in the final junior varsity game.
"It was so great," Anzalone said.
This was Anzalone's first year with the junior varsity team, on which equal playing time begins to take a back seat to winning. It was an adjustment, she said, but the girls responded well. The lower numbers ensured everyone got to play.
Steamboat's varsity will lose five seniors to graduation, so the improvement of this year's junior varsity team is paramount to the continued success of the program.
"It is a very talented, athletic group of ladies," Anzalone said.
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