Three seasons ago, the Rock Canyon (Highlands Ranch)
volleyball team finished with five wins.
The Jaguars added a hefty nine victories to that total the next year and eight more last fall. Fast-forward to present day and Rock Canyon is the top-ranked team in the CHSAANow.com poll to begin the 2016 season. Rock Canyon also came in at No. 50 in the initial XCellent National Volleyball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
"The players were very excited but also knew that they have to work hard this season to keep the ranking," Rock Canyon coach Angela Nylund-Hanson said. "They understand that being ranked number one to start the season poses different challenges they will need to overcome."
For the Jaguars, the climb has been as steady as it has been brilliant. Nylund-Hanson is in only her second year the helm, but she's been around to see the entire transformation. It's no mystery why her team went from an afterthought in 2013 to a bona fide state contender last year, when the Jags finished 22-6.
"A large part of the success is having a well-rounded program with success at all levels, not just varsity," said Nylund, who had been a junior varsity coach since 2009 before taking over prior to last season. "I push for a culture that emphasizes the importance of each level so that the program can continue to be successful over the years. I have a large class of seniors this year who I have had the pleasure of coaching these past three years, and am looking forward to a great final year with them and their teammates."
Key seniors back in the fold include setter Skylar Lane
(888 assists last season) and liberos Kendall Hanak
and Reven Bradbury
. Junior Keeley Davis
is the Jags' primary threat on the attack after finishing with a team-best 352 kills last season.
The Jaguars, who opened the season Thursday night with a win against Arapahoe (Centennial), will receive a challenge from 2015 runner-up Fairview (Boulder)
, which begins the season ranked No. 2 in state and No. 44 nationally, and defending-champion Cherokee Trail (Aurora)
, which checks in at No. 5. Other top contenders include Chatfield (Littleton)
, which returns everyone from last year and starts the season ranked third, while co-semifinalist Denver East
landed at No. 4.
Traditional powers Chaparral (Parker)
(No. 6) and Grandview (Aurora)
(No. 7) also are lurking, with the latter now under the guidance of former Ponderosa (Parker)
front man Rob Graham. Graham is taking over for retired Patty Childress. In 4A
, Cheyenne Mountain (Colorado Springs)
and Lewis-Palmer (Monument)
have taken turns running the show for most of the past decade. Cheyenne Mountain re-seized control last season after a two-year championship run by Lewis-Palmer, and the Indians received 12 of the 13 first-place votes. Lewis-Palmer, naturally, checks in at No. 2 as the two Colorado Springs-area squads once again appear to be the cream of the crop.
Lewis-Palmer's Lydia Bartalo is the only returning first- or second-team all-state selection were from last season, as the remainder have graduated. That includes three from Cheyenne Mountain, including player of the year Bethany Cullity.
, Ponderosa and Montrose
, which follow in the rankings, will be among the squads vying to break into the title mix. The power then seems to veer north, as Longmont, Windsor
, Holy Family (Broomfield)
are next in line. In 3A
, it should serve as no surprise that Eaton
was a unanimous choice for preseason No. 1. Some argued the Reds were the finest team in the state regardless of classification last season as they marched to a third straight title.
The numbers seem to support that notion, as the Reds finished the season No. 11 in MaxPreps' XCellent 25. Eaton has gone 83-2 over the past three seasons and returns key cogs in middle blocker Tarynn Sieg and setter Chelsea Lockey. They'll face a stern early-season test on their home floor Saturday in their opener against Lewis-Palmer.
As usual, some of the top challengers in the classification come from within Eaton's own Patriot League, most notably No. 2 Valley (Gilcrest)
and No. 3 University (Greeley)
. Colorado Springs Christian
and Lutheran (Parker)
round out the top five. Of note, former 2A power Resurrection Christian (Loveland)
has moved into the classification and checks in at No. 9. In 2A
, defending-champion Yuma
for the top spot. While Yuma aims for its third consecutive appearance in the title match, Paonia will be buoyed by the return of talented junior outside hitter McKenna Palmer. Lyons
, which received one first-place vote, makes an appearance at No. 3 followed by Limon
and Union Colony Prep (Greeley)
The presence of senior middle hitter Shaylee Johnson helped 2015 semifinalist Fleming
become a near-unanimous choice for the top spot in the 1A
poll, with Prairie (New Raymer)
and Kit Carson
next in line. Otis
in a five-game thriller for the small-school championship last season and the teams begin the season ranked Nos. 7 and 8, respectively. Returning All-State selections:
Sierra Bartley, Chatfield, OPP, Sr. (2nd team); Audrey Cheng
, Fairview, S, Sr. (1st team); Keeley Davis, Rock Canyon, OH, Jr. (2nd); Melissa Evans, Highlands Ranch
, RS, Sr. (2nd); Robyn Krause, Cherokee Trail, S, Sr. (1st); Jasmine Schmidt
, Chaparral, RS, Sr. (1st); Christine Schmiedeler
, Fairview, MB, Sr. (1st). Class 4ALydia Bartalo
, Lewis-Palmer, OH, Sr. (1st team).Class 3A
Megan Farrah, Pagosa Springs
, OH, Sr. (2nd team); Chelsey Lockey, Eaton, S, Jr. (2nd); Brooke Schilling, Valley, MH, Sr. (1st team); Tarynn Sieg, Eaton, MB, Sr. (1st); Saylor Webb, Resurrection Christian (2A last season), S, Sr. (2nd).Class 2A
McKenna Palmer, Paonia, MH, Jr. (1st team); Laney Swan, Colorado Springs School
, S, Sr. (2nd team).Class 1AKaylee Corsentino
, La Veta
, MH, So. (2nd team); Shaylee Johnson, Fleming, MH, Sr. (2nd); Emily Kaiser
, Prairie, OH, Sr. (1st team).