Strong start in WSL play gives 'Dogs added confidence
The Palisade High School volleyball team has put the nightmarish beginning to the 2015 league season far behind them.
“To tell you the truth, none of us have even talked about anything what happened last year,” senior Gracey Higman said. “We’ve been so focused on what we’re trying to accomplish this year that we never gave that part of our season last year a second thought.”
The Bulldogs can reflect on how far they’ve come this season compared to last year’s inauspicious start to the Class 4A Western Slope League schedule. Palisade opened with losses in nine of its 10 league matches, yet rebounded to win the final four regular-season matches to sneak into the regional round of the state playoffs.
This year, Palisade is doing its best to ensure it doesn’t have to rely on a late-season run to reach the postseason. The Bulldogs (5-4, 2-0 WSL) will look to improve their league record when they play tonight at Glenwood Springs and Friday night at Eagle Valley.
Being one of the top teams in the league is a position the Bulldogs would rather be in as opposed to last year, when they had to cross their fingers and hope they made it into the postseason even after their late-season run.
“It all comes back to taking care of business every day with every play and every ball,” Palisade coach Wendy MacAskill said. “That’s kind of where our focus has been. Yes, we have some goals in mind, but we can only reach them by taking one step at a time. We’re just taking those steps earlier now.”
Taking those steps earlier have been key thanks to the newly implemented RPI ranking system, which determines how strong a team is based on its strength of schedule and its record against strong opponents. Palisade is currently ranked No. 25 and needs to be among Class 4A’s top 32 teams to qualify for the postseason and among its top 12 teams to host one of 12 three-team regional tournaments.
This weekend’s games present a great opportunity for the Bulldogs to beef up their league résumé. The Demons are ranked 16th and the Devils 13th in RPI ratings, meaning Palisade could move up substantially with a pair of victories.
At this time last year, the postseason was one of the last things on the Bulldogs’ minds.
Palisade opened league play last season with five-set home losses to Battle Mountain and Steamboat Springs, followed by a four-set loss to Glenwood and a sweep by Eagle Valley. During that slide, cellar-dwelling Rifle was the only team the Bulldogs beat.
“We didn’t come back well from those losses and wound up being frustrated,” Palisade outside hitter Reannon Baskin said. “We lost a lot of confidence and we started playing more timid.”
So what changed?
“I think we just kind of got tired of it all,” Baskin said with a smile.
The Bulldogs not only won their final four matches, but swept each of their opponents. The most impressive victory was against Delta, a team that reached the Class 4A state championships in Denver after winning the regional tournament it hosted.
“I think last year told us a lot about what we’re capable of,” senior Abby Thiessen said. “This year, it’s been a case of us starting out strong and carrying that play over.”
Part of that fast start has come from the goals the Bulldogs have set for themselves. Baskin said Palisade wants to tally 13 kills, three aces and two blocks every set, which, if achieved, means the Bulldogs will have controlled the scoring on their own instead of waiting for their opponents to make mistakes.
“If they want to help us with their mistakes, that’s fine,” MacAskill said. “But we have to take it upon ourselves to determine the outcome.”
Three of the Bulldogs’ four losses have come against teams with higher RPI ratings, meaning last Saturday’s win against Grand Junction was Palisade’s first against a higher-ranked team. What also helped this year is the Bulldogs’ ability to rebound from losses with a strong performance in the next match, which contrasts Palisade’s mindset at the beginning of league play last year.
There are a few more teams with a higher RPI rating on the schedule for the Bulldogs, including second matches later in the season with Glenwood and Eagle Valley and a late-season tournament matchup against Class 3A Valley.
The Bulldogs feel they’ll be ready.
“It definitely feels good that we’ve been playing this well consistently since the beginning of the season,” Thiessen said. “It’s exciting to think about what we could do later and how we can keep improving on that.”