Supporting players accept their role for Palisade VB team
Like the pilings of a mighty bridge are the role players of the Palisade High School volleyball team, supporting their 6-foot-2 hitting sensation Audrey Steinkirchner, whose kills make opponents cringe.
With Steinkirchner nursing a foot injury heading into Saturday’s Class 4A regional at Cheyenne Mountain, the Bulldogs will need every last one of them.
Palisade, seeded No. 8 out of the remaining 16 teams hoping to qualify for state, will play No. 1 Cheyenne Mountain, No. 9 Roosevelt and No. 16 Niwot in a four-team round-robin tournament beginning at 8 a.m.
The top two teams from each regional qualify for the state championships Nov. 11-12 at the Denver Coliseum.
It’s been this way all season for Palisade (19-4), role players plugging needs such as the psychological leader (see Mecia Dearth) to digs specialist (libero Jenny Thibodeau.)
They are not the glamorous, leading-scorer roles that tend to leave professional athletes grinning on Wheaties boxes or sitting atop a Twitter top-hits list. But those roles contribute to wins — Palisade has a shot at its first regional championship since 1995.
“Early on, they had to accept not being superstar players,” Bulldogs coach Wendy MacAskill said. “They would have to be background players and accept that role.”
Dearth, for example, is the intimidator, or perhaps spiritual leader, sparking chatter when the Bulldogs slip. At 6 feet tall, Dearth can spike a ball with the best. Yet her psychological prowess sometimes upstages her physical attributes.
She thanks her mother, Brenda Dearth, for her chatter skills.
“She studied criminology in college,” Mecia Dearth said of her mother. “So she taught me how to intimidate opponents, how to build them up. And it’s just a lot of talking, even when we’re down a few points. It lets the opponent know they can’t break our spirits.”
She calls out triple blocks Steinkirchner cannot see as she goes up on the attack and reminds the Bulldogs’ main option up front to forget a mistake.
“I support her,” Dearth said. “No one’s perfect.”
Junior setter Shannon Rhodes will slide to scoop up a dink Steinkirchner may not be able to reach because of her bum foot. But Steinkirchner can still leap, and Rhodes, for one, will be anticipating each kill.
“It’s so intense, so exciting,” Rhodes said, her eyes widening as though seeing a vision of a Steinkirchner kill. “I know when I put it up for Audrey, she’s going to put the ball down.”
The school records go unspoken. MacAskill said she will wait until the season-ending banquet to reveal the four seniors who have broken single-season records. Steinkirchner has broken several career records but Mac-Askill won’t say which, because the Bulldogs’ goals do not lie in personal achievements.
MacAskill’s teams have not reached the state tournament since she became head coach in 2001.
But she has the superstar, and those willing to forgo such a description, to make anything possible.