Kings' court

Sisters look to continue Sailors' strong volleyball tradition

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Junior Natalie Nichols reaches for the save during the Sailors girls volleyball practice held during all last week to prepare them for Saturday's scrimmage in Meeker.

Sailors 2006 Girls Varsity Volleyball Schedule

Sept. 12, at Middle Park, 6 p.m.

Sept. 14, at Glenwood Springs, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 16, vs. Rifle, 1 p.m., vs. Fruita, 3 p.m.

Sept. 22, vs. Palisade, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 23, vs. Delta, 1 p.m.

Sept. 26, at Moffat County, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 28, at Battle Mountain, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 30, vs. Eagle Valley, 1 p.m., vs. Summit, 5 p.m.

Oct. 5, vs. Glenwood Springs, 6:30

Oct. 7, at Rifle, 1 p.m.

Oct. 13, at Palisade, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 14, at Delta, 1 p.m.

Oct. 17, vs. Moffat County, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 19, vs. Battle Mountain, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 21, at Eagle Valley, noon

— Shortly before her first practice with this year's squad, Steamboat Springs High School head volleyball coach Wendy Hall contemplated what she characterized as an "underachieving" 2005 season. At 6-8 in league play, Hall described the season by pointing to a series of misfortunes, such as the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by Erin Gleason.

"Her limbs are in great shape," Hall said enthusiastically about Gleason's return. Never mind that Gleason entered the preseason with a broken nose. "She has started practice, and she's physically 100 percent. We're waiting for one of those clear face guards, like (Detroit Pistons basketball player) Rip Hamilton has, to come in for her to wear."

Hall's positive outlook reflects her high expectations for what looks on paper to be an inexperienced team. Gleason and Shannon King are the only seniors returning from last year's varsity squad, and junior outside hitter Katie Gary is the team's only returning starter.

"We've got a strong junior class, don't overlook them," Hall assured, pointing to players like outside hitter Lizzie Stoll and middle blocker Heidi Lord, both of whom rotated into the starting lineup last season. "Our JV was solid last year because of them. They maybe lost one match all year. I don't believe in rebuilding years. They might be young, but there's no reason to call it that. They can be successful right now because of our feeder programs."

Hall said she will look for significant contributions from senior Haley Morris, junior Natalie Nichols and sophomores Kacey Bull and Maggie Kriz.

Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill are those left by last year's starting center and Western Slope League MVP, Tara King. Fortunately, Hall can rely on the same gene pool. King's younger sister, Shannon, is expected to be the starting center.

"Shannon's doing an amazing job stepping in and has looked real confident," Hall said.

Shannon's backup will be freshman Colleen King - her sister. Hall said this is first time she has had a freshman play center and only the third time she has put a freshman on the varsity roster.

"The chemistry seems good, and they've been working hard," Hall said, highlighting her team's diligent off-season preparation.

As far as Western Slope League competition goes, Battle Mountain coach Brian Doyon said he had no starters graduate from his team, which took third in the state. On the other hand, Glenwood Springs coach Scott Nykerk said he has no returning starters on a team that tied Battle Mountain's 13-1 league-winning record.

"We're not going to be what we were last year. It's a rebuilding year for us," Nykerk said.

With Battle Mountain as the league favorite, Hall thinks Steamboat will be competitive in a strong and evenly matched league.

"This league is as tough as it's ever been, from top to bottom, in the last 20 years," Hall said.

"Steamboat's the same as always," Doyon said. "They're always well coached, always a strong team, well-disciplined. And they're always a well-balanced threat, and that's how we'll prepare."

To make sure her players are aware of the winning tradition she has helped established, Hall is starting the season a week later than usual to allow her team to see some of the program's finest perform in Colorado. Class of 2003 graduates Bayli Stillwell and Katie Carter led Steamboat to second place in the 2002 4A state finals and will be playing in their senior seasons for James Madison University and UCLA, respectively. On Sept. 2, James Madison plays at Colorado State University, and on Sept. 9, UCLA plays at the University of Denver.

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