The No. 5 jersey for the Fairview volleyball team holds special meaning.
The jersey once belonged to Gail Lessig, a former player for the program. When she was killed in a car accident, the program decided to honor her memory by having one of the team leaders wear the jersey with her number.
This year, the jersey is being worn by Grace Andrews, an outside hitter who leads the team in kills.
“It was an honor just to receive it,” Andrews said. “One of my biggest influences is Caroline Schmiedeler, who played on the team four or five years ago, and she was No. 5. I learned a lot about that jersey.”
It turns out that it was fate for her to wear the No. 5 for her senior season. As a third-generation Fairview student in her family, she learned that there was a family connection with Lessig.
“I went through a whole fun experience this past week with getting some connections about that No. 5 jersey,” Andrews said. “I recently figured out that my aunt and uncle were very close with Gale (Lessig), and they hung out with her almost every day at school and were in the same class. That was something I had no idea about.”
“I wanted to try and get in contact with (Lessig’s) parents about coming out to one of our games. We’re trying to get a plaque up for Gail. I was trying to figure out if they were still in Colorado and to invite them to a game. Through a family connection, I figured out that we had their number and address and know where they are. I’m super excited about getting to meet them and show them the legacy their daughter has provided for the school and the team.”
It’s a special story for Andrews and the Fairview team. Later this season, the program will dedicate Lessig’s honor during the game on Oct. 10 against rival Boulder, with family of the late Lessig expected to be in attendance to be recognized.
On the court, Fairview is looking to make it a special season as well. Odette Edbrooke, a former assistant coach who was last part of the 2014 team that returned to the state tournament after a lengthy drought from qualifying, is back looking to take the Knights to the postseason that they missed out on last year. It’s been two seasons since the Knights made the field for the state tournament at the Denver Coliseum.
“Skill wise, it’s their smarts and the way they see the court, the way they look for opportunities,” Edbrooke said about the similarities to this team to that 2014 team. “More than that, it’s their energy and positive attitude. They just shake it off and move to the next thing. We are a no-drama team, and I see some similarities. We are having fun.”
Another big change has helped Fairview hit hard on offense and thrive through the first couple of weeks.
Sam Anthony, the former libero for the Knights, has moved to the setter position while still playing a key role on the back line defensively. It’s a position she has some familiarity with, albeit from years ago.
“I did it for a few years when I was younger,” Anthony said. “I have done it before, but it was a big change for me. I love it now. It’s been good so far. It was pretty easy to get back in it.”
The passing from the setter spot has opened the door for the top three hitters – all seniors, as is Anthony – to kill the ball efficiently. Andrews and Maura Sharp are leading the way from the outside, with Andrews currently at 57 kills and Sharp with 43.
“It’s definitely because of our passing,” Sharp said. “Without our passing, we wouldn’t really have had the opportunity to slam balls down like we do. Having Sam (Anthony) be our setter this year has made it more consistent and that helps.”
Kea Veenendaal, the middle blocker that brings size to an otherwise smaller roster, has 47 kills and is currently killing the ball at a 54 percent rate.
“Somehow it just clicked,” Veenendaal said. “It really showed us that we could win some games and be a good team this year. It’s a good confidence boost.”
All four girls are set to obliterate offensive numbers set last year. Veenendaal is nearly at her kill total from last year, while Andrews and Sharp are on an average pace to at least double their kill total from a season ago. Anthony is on pace to surpass the assist total from last year easily.
The change in the lineup and confident attack up front has resulted in a 5-0 start for the Knights and an appearance in the top 10 rankings. They opened with four wins at the Regis Jesuit tournament, but their biggest win came last Tuesday when they defeated Chatfield 3-2, knocking off the No. 10 ranked team who made it to the state tournament a year ago.
If the offensive numbers continue, Fairview hopes the win total will also climb well above their 8-15 record in 2018, as well as making it back to the state tournament.
“It feels like every practice is worth more,” Veenendaal said. “You want to give that little bit of extra effort. We are 5-0 and want to keep that going. We’re all working towards that same goal, and getting to state is reachable. We are a lot more motivated.”
In more ways than one, this could be a special year for Fairview volleyball.