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Steamboat volleyball looks to thrive on healthy competition

Steamboat senior setter Abi Berlet sets up a hit in a ball control drill at volleyball practice on Aug. 15.
Leah Vann

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs High School head volleyball coach Wendy Hall strives for a healthy competitive atmosphere in a seemingly high-pressured volleyball world.

Today, athletes seek out clubs with the biggest names, paying top dollar with hopes of being recruited. By the time they step on the court for high school volleyball season, there has been no break, and the pressure is on to beat out their long-time friends for the positions they want.

“I think that’s one of the sad things about the volleyball world, it’s gone to this specialization that I don’t agree with and our athletic philosophy in this high school doesn’t agree with it either,” Hall said. “I think it’s great when they use different muscles with different sports and learn from different coaches.”

But Hall doesn’t need her players to drive across Colorado with a club team to build a successful program. The 2016 and 2017 Western Slope League Coach of the Year hones multi-sport athletes on her own court through hard work.

“We had more kids try out this season from freshman all the way to seniors than we ever had before,” Hall said. “I like to tell my players that all positions are up for grabs every year. I just don’t like the entitled attitude, period. It’s communicated in the spring that no one has made the varsity team yet. I think it keeps the competitive nature of your practice healthy.”

But there are some kinks to work out during the 2018 season. The Sailors finished a 12-11 season at No. 37, just one spot away in the rankings from a playoff berth. Hall has nine seniors and three juniors on her varsity team, including opposite hitter Maddie Hayden, outside hitter Anna Allsberry, middle blocker Avery Harrington and setter Abi Berlet as returning starters.

Steamboat volleyball

Aug. 23: vs. Moffat County, W 25-11, 25-10, 25-16
Aug. 31 at Alamosa, L 21-25, 25-21, 15-17.
Aug. 31 at Peak to Peak, W 25-15, 25-8
Sept. 1 at Coal Ridge, L 25-18, 18-25, 11-15
Sept. 1 at Littleton, W 25-16, 25-20
Sept. 8: at Classical Academy, L 25-19, 18-25, 12-15
Sept. 8: Coronado, L 27-29, 22-25
Sept. 8: Mullen High School, L 22-25, 20-25
Sept. 8: Mountain View, W 20-25, 25-15, 25-12
Sept. 13: vs. Eagle Valley, L 18-25, 27-25, 25-14, 20-25, 13-15
Sept. 15: vs. Glenwood Springs, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 21: at Palisade, W 19-25, 25-17, 25-23, 25-8
Sept. 22: at Rifle, W 25-13, 25-12, 25-20
Sept. 25: vs. Battle Mountain, W 25-16, 23-25, 25-22, 25-23.
Sept. 27: at Summit W 27-29, 25-13, 22-25, 25-21, 15-13
Oct. 4: at Eagle Valley L 18-25, 25-18, 12-25, 24-26
Oct. 6: at Glenwood Springs W 25-23, 25-22, 25-22
Oct. 12: vs. Palisade L 21-25, 27-29, 25-20, 25-23, 14-16
Oct. 13: vs. Rifle, W 25-17, 25-20, 25-8
Oct. 16: at Battle Mountain, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 18: vs. Summit, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 20: vs. Grand Junction, 6:30 p.m.

Berlet, a senior, spent the majority of her offseason studying abroad in Spain learning Spanish for six months. She returned to Steamboat this summer, spending hours in the gym to get ready for the upcoming season.

“I think really my mental game has improved a lot from taking a break,” Berlet said. “I remember at the end of last season I made it my goal to work really hard in the offseason. Last season, we kind of got caught up in the end, but we never were present. But this season, it really pushes me to take each game and play that game for itself.”

Hall said that’s part of the reason the team struggled last year. After winning its first four games, they lost nine straight early in the season.

“We started talking in June about what our theme for the year is. The back of their shirt says, ‘Now Matters,’” Hall said. “That’s kind of our theme this year: you have to play every game, every point, play every drill, every day of practice. You have to stop putting things off and start putting all into everything that’s exactly in front of you right now.”

Harrington took that to heart, foregoing her dry land Nordic skiing training this summer to focus on volleyball. She attended camps at Regis and Denver universities.

“I think it’s good for everybody to get a break, so that was my intention was to get a break from skiing,” Harrington said. “But it was super nice, because I was able to go to volleyball camps I’ve never been able to go to before and get a lot more touches. That really helped with ball control for me.”

Hall said Harrington’s summer of volleyball helped her grow leaps and bounds from last year. That hard work will aid in her success as more than just a blocker but a competitive hitter on the court.

Berlet sees the improvement in her teammate and hopes to build on it this year, adding more quick sets, slides and a tricky behind-the-back set that’s still in the works.

“We haven’t decided what to call that set,” Berlet said with a smile.

As returning starters, both have chips on their shoulders after missing the playoffs by one spot last year. They think the rest of the team should feel that sentiment.

Harrington hopes to lead the league in blocks this year. She stood at No. 3 last year despite missing five games. Berlet hopes to make All-State and be No. 1 in assists — she was No. 2 last year.

Berlet points to the red boundary lines in the gym that mark the courts, where the girls have now advanced from partner warm-ups to a four-on-four ball control drill.

“We have a red line rule. When you see this red line, it’s kind of like everything outside of it stays outside,” Berlet said. “But when we’re in the gym, we’re in the gym.”

To reach Leah Vann, call 970-871-4253, email lvann@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @LVann_Sports.


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