Cross-country, volleyball and soccer in full swing
by Than Acuff
There is a mixed bag of experience across all three Titans fall sports teams, with volleyball and soccer seeing several returning varsity players while cross-country has a relatively young team this year.
The teams opened preseason on Monday, August 15, leaving coaches two weeks to prepare their squads before the onslaught of schoolwork and the start of competitions. The crash course can be daunting for both coaches and athletes as the coaches have been working to reinforce fundamentals and establish fitness levels while keeping athletes healthy, but it appears that all three programs are on track for the upcoming season.
The Titans high school girls’ volleyball team bids goodbye to long time head coach Marla Covey. Covey spent over a decade at the helm of the team creating a competitive and energized atmosphere while sharing her obvious love of the sport. Stepping into her shoes this season is long time JV coach Heather Perry.
Perry’s enthusiasm for volleyball is equal to, if not exceeds, Covey’s and she has been working with the Titan JV teams the past eight years. Now, in her ninth year, she is stepping into the head coach position and looks forward to the new challenge. Taylor Castillo will take the JV reins after playing the last four years for Western State Colorado University.
Perry got things going last winter when she held open gym sessions once a week to give players the opportunity to get a head start on things and was pleased with the turnout.
“I usually had eight or 10 kids every week,” says Perry. “It wasn’t the same kids every week, but a mix which is good.”
Perry did some off-season work as well, attending coaching clinics and shifting the program’s focus based upon what she learned during the off-season.
“I’m teaching hitting, serving and attacking more and all of my kids are hitting way harder than before,” explains Perry.
Twenty volleyball players showed up the first day of preseason and five more have trickled in over the past week to bring her numbers up to 25, a number Perry feels is perfect.
In addition to switching the focus of preseason workouts, Perry has shifted the attitude of preseason workouts. While varsity can carry as many as 12 players, Perry will start the season with nine or 10 and leave the additional spots to be earned by the players.
“I want kids on the bubble to prove themselves and work for it,” says Perry. “I want to create a new culture.”
Furthermore, she hopes that the limited varsity roster will create a more competitive JV team as well.
“JV was always code for just freshmen,” says Perry. “This way we’ll have a true, more competitive JV team.”
Perry does have the small luxury of several returning varsity players, has a couple players new to town and a solid crew of underclassmen, all of which have made for a different attitude during preseason.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the kids, the coaching, the middle school program or all of it, but preseason is definitely more intense this year,” says Perry.
Perry looks to channel that intensity into a lean, mean volleyball machine this year. While they do have some size and some strength, Perry believes their success lies in their intensity.
“I think the team this year will just never quit on the ball,” says Perry. “We’ll be scrappy.”
They open their season on Saturday, September 3, at home in Mt. Olympus with a match against South Park, a team that handed the Titans a frustrating five set loss at the end of last year.
“The kids remember that and all week they have been saying, ‘beat South Park’,” says Perry. “They are out for redemption.”
Head coach Than Acuff returns for yet another year at the helm this season and has called on former Titan Pharwit Durgan to help out as assistant coach as well as Mike Eaton to jump into the fray two days a week to help bring the Titans’ game to a new level.
This year the team has several things going for it: a large number of seniors, juniors with varsity experience, a sophomore class that helped lead a very successful JV team last year and an incoming freshmen class that, while small in stature, more than makes up for it with ability.
They opened the season with their traditional Midnight Madness and over 30 players showed up. As the next two days progressed, more players returned to the fold from summer, and the team is completely maxed out at 35 players.
As is often the case, the first week of preseason focused on fitness and skills to gauge where the players stood on both fronts. After that, the coaching staff realized that this group, while not necessarily loud and full of leaders, is ready to take their game another step, though fitness still remains a priority.
The team will wrap up their two-a-day preseason regimen this week and headed out for their annual team hike on the final day of preseason Friday, August 26. While they’ve spent the past several years climbing peaks, this year they hiked over to Aspen to hit the rec center, spend an evening on the town and then sleep in the gym at Aspen High School before waking up the next day to scrimmage Aspen.
They open the season on the road on Thursday, September 1 to play Salida, a perennial state powerhouse, and then open league play at home on Saturday, September 3, against Alamosa.
The Titans cross-country team took a hit with graduation last year losing a significant number of strong runners. Furthermore, a handful of their up and coming freshmen last year are opting to take their athletic talents elsewhere as sophomores joining the Gunnison football program.
Nevertheless, head coach Austin Ross comes into his third year of coaching with the same enthusiasm and energy as always. He has 10 runners total, three boys and seven girls, just one of whom is a senior is looking forward to a strong season from a couple of his runners and continued improvement from the younger athletes.
“We’re definitely a young team this year,” says Ross.
Midway through the second week of preseason, two runners are already standing out from the 10 runners on the team, Maria O’Neal and Sydney Petersen.
“Sydney and Maria both did quite a bit of training this summer so they’re coming into the season in really good shape,” says Ross. “I’m not totally sure how they’ll mix it up in the meet, but I think they’ll be a really good one-two punch.”
In addition to Petersen and O’Neal, Ross expects to see Vincent Michel, Emile Elkins and Sierra D’Aquila continue building on their late season success from last year and looks to the lone senior, Mia Shanks, to provide leadership through the season.
As for the rest, Ross is in the process of fleshing out where everyone is in their fitness and adjusting his workouts accordingly.
“For me the focus has been figuring out everyone’s base line and where we’re going to go from that base line,” explains Ross. “It’s a wide gap, which is fine.”
While he has the benefit of Emily Katz returning as his assistant coach, Katz is currently on a Grand Canyon trip. Fortunately, former Titan standout runner Amber Scott is in town and she has been out with the team during preseason workouts.
“It’s been great,” says Ross. “She is really able to relate, has really good advice and I think they look up to her.”
Ultimately, Ross likes the team as a unit and sees something different from his squad this year.
“I think we have a really good team dynamic this year,” says Ross. “It will help form a really good training group, and they will be able to push each other.”
The team will open their race season on Saturday, September 3, when they head to Leadville for the highest cross-country race in the nation.
“It’s a hard meet, but it’s a nice way to test ourselves before we go to some lower altitude races,” says Ross.