Tigers volleyball eyes a tough final stretch after their best start since 2007
Special to the Daily
Tigers volleyball home schedule
Oct. 10 — Varsity vs. Palisade, 1 p.m.
Oct. 12 — Varsity vs. Delta, 5 p.m.
Oct. 20 — Varsity vs. Battle Mountain, 6:30 p.m.
The 2015 season has been one of revival for Summit High School volleyball. After finishing a meager 4-18 last year, the team is off to its best start since 2007, and at 5-6 already has more wins than in 2014.
“We have, like, unlimited potential with our hitters and our diggers, because we can get as far as we wanted if we really tried,” senior captain Emily Wallace said. She’s one of six seniors on this season’s squad, but many on the team believe that an even spread of talent and development throughout has been the biggest key to their turnaround.
“I feel like it’s not as much the veterans, but the mix of the two: Fresh (players) and people that are more experienced,” Wallace said. “Our freshman middle kills it, and we kind of keep it rounded because we know what’s going on and what to expect.”
Wallace and fellow senior Lexi Zangari lead the team with kills, while sophomore Sage Kent has been a defensive demon, notching 89 digs on the season. This season is Kent’s first playing varsity volleyball.
“Sage Kent in the back row is no one to ignore,” head coach Liz Hughes said. “In the beginning of the season she was pretty nervous, and she seems to have overcome that and really own that position. We can’t run an offense without a good defense, and she’s holding it down.”
Not to be forgotten among the many contributors is one of this season’s biggest surprises, freshman Anna Dodson. Dodson had never played volleyball at a high level before this season, but now, after 11 matches, she is one of the starting centers. The 6-foot, 2-inch natural credits her success to a connection she developed with her teammates while playing at the varsity team camp this past summer.
“It started off a little rough because I’m a freshman, but as soon as they got used to me and I got used to them, then it was OK and we just developed a bond,” Dodson said. “I’m just comfortable with everyone on the team now. I mean, I can talk to every single one of them and tell them my heart and soul.”
Although Dodson had a bit of a bumpy start, the bond she has made with her teammates is starting to pay dividends on the court.
“Lexi Zangari and I have finally come up with our tempo, and we’re just hitting our ones and our sets, which really helps our team because we can get even more points,” Dodson said. Playing with new confidence on Oct. 1 against Steamboat, Dodson sent out a series of ferocious spikes and perfectly placed blocks — looking like anything but a first-year varsity player. By the end of the game, she had notched a personal best: 12 kills, six blocks and three digs.
“She wasn’t playing like that at the beginning of the season … she’s pretty impressive,” Hughes said.
After a dominating, three-set win over Rifle on Thursday and close losses to two of three 4A Western Slope powerhouses — No. 6 Steamboat Springs and No. 23 Battle Mountain — optimism is high for the remainder of the season. Summit faces both teams again, including a home match against the Huskies on Oct. 20.
“We’re much stronger in both serve reception and defense, and that has led to confidence in our offense,” Hughes said. “I told these guys after the Delta game (Sept. 26), ‘We’re nowhere near as good as where we’re going to be at the end of the season if we keep working hard.’”
Working hard will be a necessity for Summit’s success in the back half of the season: The team’s seven remaining opponents have a 64-50 combined record.
The first challenge comes Saturday, Oct. 10, when the Tigers face off against Palisade (7-8). In relative terms, Palisade is one of the easier teams Summit faces this season, so the game is a must-win for the Tigers.
On Monday, Summit faces off against No. 5 Delta (14-2) for the second time. The Tigers were dispatched by the Panthers in three straight sets earlier this season and the group is looking for redemption against one of the top teams in the league.
“I know Delta is a challenge, and I think that we just need to play like we did today — and maybe a little harder — because I feel like we can play a lot better,” Dodson said after the Tigers’ win against Rifle. “I don’t know about Palisade, but hopefully we push through with Delta and come out with a win.”
Hughes is also unsure about Saturday’s match against the Bulldogs.
“Delta’s going to be the toughest, but Palisade’s been taking everybody to four and five sets,” Hughes said. “They’ve been losing, but not really been losing.”
Another shot at the Huskies
One other match worth mentioning is the rivalry game against Battle Mountain at home. The Huskies defeated Summit 3-1 two weeks ago in Edwards, but Wallace and Hughes expect a better result this time around.
“Definitely different because it will be at Summit, and also because we improved a lot,” Wallace said. “We changed so many things since that game already, so I know we’re going to do better.”
Her coach agrees.
“I think that they don’t know how good we are either,” Hughes said. “I think that we did not bring it… . That was the turning point for us right after Battle Mountain. We kind of went, ‘Whoa, here’s what we have to do, here’s where our holes are, and here’s how we fix it.’”
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Summit hasn’t beaten Battle Mountain since 2011.
“They have a habit of going into Battle Mountain like Battle Mountain’s this big beast, this impossible mountain that they can’t climb, and I don’t think they’ll go into it that way this time.”
This will only be Dodson’s second match against the Huskies, but she’s already caught up in the rivalry.
“I’m very pumped for Battle Mountain,” Dodson said. “I think from just coming together as a team (that) we’re ready to play and ready to whoop some butt!”
With spirits high and confidence strong from mid-season improvement, the Summit volleyball girls are right where they want to be with the meat of their schedule coming up.
“They’ve been talking about, ‘Breathe, believe and battle,’ and that’s all they have to keep doing,” Hughes said. “With everyone playing hard, we’re in a good spot.”
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