Volleyball: Sultzer’s rebuilding process at Boulder taking shape

Senior Michaela McKeown hopes to lead Boulder to an improved season this year in the Front Range League.

BOULDER — Coming off of a winless season of conference play the year before, Boulder High volleyball coach Angela Sultzer waited last season until the Panthers had won a few games to break out the big motivational guns.

The first-year coach wanted her players to get a taste of winning — and some belief in themselves — before she started throwing around words like state championships.

That’s when she busted out the old game film from the Panthers’ state title-winning 2000 season, when the stands were rocking for BHS volleyball.

“Just so they knew this is where the program was and we can be,” Sultzer said recently. “Last year we talked about where we were headed, knowing that it is a process and is not going to happen overnight. That’s the end goal is to get back to that point. I definitely feel like we’re on a good track right now. I’m pretty excited about the season.”

Now in her second season at BHS, Sultzer is by no means making claims that the Panthers will suddenly be back in championship form after several rough seasons. The Panthers went 6-15 in her first campaign and bumped up the conference win total to just two.

But with five starters returning and overflowing interest in the program — 90 players tried out earlier this month — the Panthers at least feel like they’re moving forward.

And make no mistake. Sultzer’s motivational ploy last season worked in stoking championship dreams in the minds of players who had only known tough times. If they didn’t before, they now know that the volleyball program was the last to bring home a gold trophy for BHS, a source of pride that is helping fuel their workouts.

“(Watching video of the 2000 team) was really cool because when you watched it the stands were so full of people,” junior setter Bella Greer said. “There were people on the floor watching them. I really want to get to that point where people really come watch us.”

Along with the 5-foot-10 Greer, seniors Michaela McKeown (5-10, OH), Erin Houlihan (5-11, MB) and Courtney Van Bussum (5-11, MB) return to the starting lineup along with another junior, 5-9 libero Joelle Burkhardt.

The Panthers, of course, will have to replace their main weapon from last season, Tyler Graham, who has taken her abilities to DePaul University.

But the Panthers also believe they’ve got the chemistry to improve upon last year’s eighth-place finish in the Front Range League. To Sultzer, the squad is already ahead of where it was last year.

It helps, the players said, having the same coach for a second year in a row after a bit of a revolving door at the position since Dave Blessing coached that 2000 team to a crown.

“It’s awesome having a returning coach,” McKeown said. “That’s the only way you can really build up a program from the beginning.”

Sultzer’s process has been comprehensive in its approach.

A former club coach in Texas for several years, she moved to Boulder two years ago when her husband Jesse was hired as director of operations for the Colorado Buffaloes.

The couple now runs Team Complete Athlete, a volleyball club based in Boulder geared toward 12-to-18-year-olds that Angela Sultzer hopes can help benefit the entire area, not just the Panthers. About half of the players in the club attend rival Fairview, for instance.

The full impact of such a venture, Sultzer knows will take time. Her players know it, too, happy to feel like they’re contributing to the Panthers’ next title, even if they won’t be around by the time it happens.

“That’s kind of our vision here, and it takes awhile,” Sultzer said. “So we’re definitely in it for the long haul here.”

Follow Josh Lindenstein on Twitter: @JoshLindenstein