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Volleyball: Wide difference in seasons, teams set for wild finish

Prospect Ridge Academy one of few programs without a postponement to date

Broomfield sophomore Lilia Neill (14) reacts ...
Tim Hurst/Staff Photographer
Broomfield sophomore Lilia Neill (14) reacts after a point against Monarch on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Broomfield, Colo.
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The state’s high school volleyball landscape is rather unclear heading into the final week of the regular season due to, among other things, a disproportionate number of games played among the different programs, as well as a bevy of makeup games still up ahead.

The spectrum has been vast, if not dizzying. On one side of it, programs like Prospect Ridge Academy and Niwot have pushed forward fairly unscathed by the protocols and already look to be in a strong position heading into regionals. The other end features powers like Broomfield and Mead, which have been impressive in their own right, but which have been hampered by varying quarantines as they both still have plenty left to prove.

The difference? Happenchance, mostly.

“I think we’ve been very lucky,” said Miners coach Rachel Renville, whose team moved to 11-1 on the season with a win over Stargate School Thursday. “All the girls take it super seriously and follow all the rules. And they’ve tried to stay safe and healthy, and they’ve managed to do it so far.”

Led by the second-year coach, the fifth-year varsity program is arguably having its best season yet.

On the strength of senior playmakers that include middle blocker Sierra Leopold and outside hitter Bella Heinmiller, the Miners have won 11 of 12  — 10 of them coming in straight sets as of Thursday afternoon. Their lone loss was to Class 3A Metro League-leading Lutheran, two weeks ago.

Maybe even more impressive, though, is the fact that Renville said her team hasn’t had to postpone a single game.

The difference weighs heavily compared to Broomfield. Said coach Bob Knox this week, the Eagles have had four games postponed because of an opponent quarantine. They’ve also played with starters in and out of the lineup due to virus protocol.

“It’s been a struggle, man,” Knox said following his team’s three-set win over Monarch Wednesday. “I have to rearrange my lineup with about every match we’ve played. But we’re doing the best we can and the kids are just doing a great job. Our goal is to make it to the postseason.”

Having the high school volleyball season in the spring dredged up plenty of non-virus-related concerns. Mainly, the fact the season runs in parallel to the state’s club volleyball and soccer seasons. The sneak-up additions of quarantine and limited practice availability have only made it all the more tiring.

And all the more confusing.

The Eagles capped off three matches in three days, touting a 4-3 record with six games to go over the season’s last seven days.

In the same town, Prospect Ridge Academy has just one game scheduled next week before the April 24 cutoff. And up north, the Cougars of NHS have already played 13 games with a season limit of 14.

But the chaos isn’t Broomfield’s alone. Mead’s ending stretch fits the bill.

The Mavericks beat Erie and Centaurus Thursday night to stay perfect through seven games played. In an odd year for them, they started the season with a win over Silver Creek before going into quarantine. This week, they’ve already played five games in four days. And next up, they’re scheduled to have six matches over the final seven days.

“We’ve been doing a lot of mental toughness training,” Mead’s star outside hitter Quincey Coyle said. “We listen to videos and write notes. And that has helped us during this whole process. And we stretch a lot, we roll out to help our bodies recover.”

Among others who’ve been scattered about, Erie came out of quarantine this past week and played four matches in three days. Similarly, Longmont played its first game in the middle of March, then didn’t play its second until the first week of April.

No matter how they get there, programs across the state need to get in as much of their remaining schedule in as possible before the door closes. Following that, CHSAA installed a one-week cushion before regionals to adapt to late-season quarantine periods.

Regionals officially start May 1. In all classifications, regional brackets will be made up of league champions and up to 24 at-large bids.

Here’s where things stand in the area:

Niwot (11-2, 8-1) is currently leading the 4A/3A Longs Peak League. The Cougars have to win the league outright to claim an automatic spot, per state guidelines. Thompson Valley (8-1, 7-1) is currently a half-game back and Frederick (10-2, 8-2) is right in the mix, too.

The 5A Front Range League is up in the air. Broomfield (4-3, 3-2) came into the weekend with three league wins in five matches, while Boulder (4-5, 3-3) had three wins in six league games. Legacy (2-7, 2-4), Monarch (3-5, 1-4) and Fairview (0-8, 0-6) are back of that.

Same uncertainty for the 5A/4A NCAC. Mead (7-0, 6-0) and Windsor (9-0, 6-0) came into the weekend undefeated. But Longmont (2-3, 2-1), Holy Family (5-2, 4-2) and Erie (5-4, 4-3) are still in play to move up.

Elsewhere, Prospect Ridge Academy (11-1, 8-1) is second in the 3A Metro League. Peak to Peak (3-3, 2-3) and Jefferson Academy (0-3, 0-2) are behind.

Dawson (5-3, 5-2) leads the area teams in the 3A/2A/1A Mile High League, currently sitting fourth.