Volleyball in Colorado largely has been defined by Chaparral this season.
Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colo.)
doesn't like that.
It's not that Chaparral (Parker, Colo.)
doesn't deserve its lofty status. The Wolverines enter regionals this weekend a perfect 23-0 record and are designated the No. 4 team in the nation in MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Volleyball Rankings
. It's just that Regis Jesuit believes that Chaparral isn't as head and shoulders above the field as some observers might think.
"I think the gap is really close," Regis middle hitter Sarah Schmid
said. "We have a lot of good hitters, too, and I think we have more depth than they do."
To be fair, Regis has gone 0-2 against Chaparral this season. The Raiders lost 3-1 in their own Regis Jam Tournament on Sept. 3, then dropped a 3-2 decision to the Wolverines in the regular-season Continental League finale on Oct. 20.
The Raiders led 2-1 in the match but had to settle for the satisfaction of becoming the lone team to take Chaparral to a fifth game this season.
"The first time we played them we were still playing around with our lineup," said Schmid, a Rutgers signee and one of three Division I recruits on the Raiders' roster. "The second time we played them it was a really close game. We're hoping to improve more and maybe play them in the state finals – and hopefully beat them this time."
While the politically correct route would be to say that it doesn't matter who is on the playoff docket, Regis makes no secret of its desire to overthrow Chaparral when it matters most.
"Absolutely, we want another shot at them," Raiders coach Laura Dunston said. "From the get-go we said we wanted to see them three times. We knew we'd see them in our tournament and we knew we'd see them in league. And the two teams we'd love to see in the postseason would be Grandview and Chap."
There is ample reason why Regis believes it belongs in the conversation with Chaparral and Grandview (Aurora, Colo.)
(Grandview's lone loss is to Chaparral). Schmid and Janae Hall
are among the state's premier middle hitters, with Hall inked to play collegiately at Kansas. Hall is a member of the USA junior team that played in Turkey during the summer.
Hall also played basketball for Regis' highly- egarded program as a freshman and sophomore, but decided to focus exclusively on volleyball. Her sister, Justine, plays hoops for the Raiders.
"I had been playing basketball since second grade, but decided to go out for volleyball freshman year of high school," Hall says on her Team USA bio. "I made the freshman 'A' team. My sophomore year, I made the junior varsity volleyball team and made the 16-1 club team at Front Range. I decided to quit basketball and switched to just playing volleyball."
In addition, outside hitter
will play at Montana State and fellow outside hitter Michaela Smith
has attracted interest from smaller Division I schools. Couple the premier talent with a team that has no peripheral issues and one can see why the Raiders are 21-2 and will be playing host to Region C on Thursday and Friday, inviting Highlands Ranch, Monarch and Fossil Ridge to their gym in a prelude to the state tournament.
"We have nine seniors this year and it's a group of girls who have played together since they were freshmen," Dunston said. "They get along and they're best friends. They don't fight, they don't have petty arguments and the biggest thing is, if we get behind, they look at each other and say, ‘Let's pull this thing out and win.'"
Regis also heavily relies on right-side hitter Jackie Miller
, who moved from the middle this season and has flourished. Kaitlyn Taggart
, the lone junior starter, has been a standout setter and Izze Ginley
is one of the state's best at the libero position.
"It's one of those rare combinations that you only get every once in awhile," Dunston said. "It's been one of the most fun years of coaching."
Dunston, in her sixth season at Regis, coached at Hinkley in the late 1980s before taking a few seasons off to spend more time with her children. After a stint as a middle school coach, she took a position coaching the Regis boys volleyball club team, a post she continues to maintain. She is now in her 11th season with the boys team, a stint that included coaching her own sons.
Now, her girls squad is on the verge of big things. Just how big likely will depend on their ability to overthrow the giant that is Chaparral. But the possible looming match hasn't hindered Dunston's players' focus. It has sharpened it.
"It's hard because we just want to play them again and have a chance to get a win this time," Schmid said. "But we know there are a lot of other good teams out there that we'll have to beat first to have the chance."