At full strength
Wildcats get healthy in time for 5A regionals
The Fruita Monument volleyball team capped a successful regular season with a Southwestern League title despite injury woes.
The No. 10 Wildcats more than earned the right to host the Class 5A Region 10 Tournament at Fruita Monument High School on Saturday.
Now, coach Bob Richardson said it’s just a matter of getting healthy before the Wildcats open against No. 27 Grand Junction at 9 a.m. Saturday, and then play No. 15 Fort Collins at 1 p.m.
MacKenzie Schuller (torn labrum) and Loryn Chiapuzio (sprained ankle) were nursing injuries heading into the Wildcats’ final games at the Dakota Ridge Tournament in Littleton.
“We had a busy weekend playing five games in three days, but this week we took it easy, and I think we’re as healthy as we’re going to get,” Richardson said. “We played well last weekend, and I think we accomplished what we needed to accomplish in order to get where we need to be.”
Richardson said the Wildcats’ opening-round matchup against Grand Junction gives him “mixed feelings,” and he hates to play any team three times, especially one that “knows us that well.” Added to that, Richardson said Grand Junction takes the spot of a Front Range opponent that would have had to make the long trip to the Western Slope.
“They don’t have to travel,” Richardson said. “These Front Range teams don’t normally make six-hour bus rides to play a game, and they don’t spend the night in a hotel. It’s not something they do. It is something we do, and I feel like it’s an advantage that we earned this season.”
Richardson said he caught a glimpse of Fort Collins when the Wildcats were playing on a nearby court at the Dakota Ridge Tournament. He said the Lambkins are like most Front Range teams: bigger than the Wildcats.
But Richardson said Fruita has worked in practice to increase the speed of its offense to beat Lambkin defenders before they can set up blocks.
For the Tigers, Saturday’s opening match is a matter of believing they can topple Fruita.
“I think our chances are decent heading into Saturday,” Grand Junction coach Shawna Emmons said. “We have some really strong players, and they have some really strong players. We both have good defenses and some good offense, and I think it will come down to the wire.
“I know my girls are excited, and I think we’ll be ready to play. I know (Richardson) will have his girls ready to play. But you really have to go into matches like this believing you have a chance, or really what’s the point of playing.”
Although Fort Collins remains a mystery, Emmons said her team has excelled at reading and responding to how a team plays. She said the Tigers have been “picking up on teams more quickly” during the second half of the season, and that could translate well against the Lambkins.
Tia Wright, a freshman middle hitter for the Tigers, has the potential to limit some of the talented hitters for Fruita and Fort Collins. Wright is third in the SWL with 67 blocks and has the second highest kill percentage in the league.
“It’s been great to watch her grow this season,” Emmons said. “The upperclassmen have really taken her under their wing. At first she was really timid and was part of the team but wasn’t really part of the team, if you know what I mean. But she has really grown into her own, always asking for extra help, and I’ll tell you this: She’s going to be a force by the time she’s a senior.”
Montrose hosts 4A Regional
It’s nice to be home.
Montrose volleyball coach Shane Forrest said it’s a relief to avoid traveling to a Class 4A regional. The Indians (19-4) host No. 31 Steamboat Springs (13-8) and No. 19 Mountain View (14-9) with matches beginning at 10 a.m. at Montrose High School.
“I’m feeling great about our chances in this tournament,” Forrest said. “It’s exciting for the kids not having to travel after being used to traveling every year. It’s a new feeling for us. We’re feeling good. We just have to play well and play solid volleyball and control our errors.” Forrest said she will rely on a pair of seniors to lead Montrose against a young Steamboat Springs squad and a Mountain View squad that played a tough schedule.
“Emily Sanburg is our middle hitter, and she’s just been solid all year for us,” Forrest said. “Shea Neill has been our spark plug at libero and just our vocal leader all season.”
Paonia seeks perfection
Paonia (23-0) will try to remain undefeated as it hosts the Class 2A Region C tournament Saturday. The Eagles will host Nucla (11-11) and West Grand (11-12), with games beginning at 9 a.m.