Aspen volleyball hopes experience yields success | AspenTimes.com

Aspen volleyball hopes experience yields success

Jon Maletz

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Experience. Drive. Momentum.

Reasons abound why many think the Aspen girls volleyball team could compete for the 3A Western Slope crown in 2006.

Coach Matt Bergdahl is on the bandwagon. On leave last year while working toward a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology at Colorado State University, Bergdahl helped usher the program through its glory days. He coached teams in the regionals and took another to the state title game in 2001. He knows what it takes to win at this level.

This year’s squad has what it takes to be a top contender, Bergdahl said Wednesday. While the Skiers lack the 2001 team’s physical stature, their athleticism and skill will set them apart.

“They’re playing real well right now,” said Bergdahl, who takes over for Sarah Benson. Benson, who recently had a son, was Bergdahl’s assistant before becoming head coach last year. “The ability to work together and play unselfishly is what gets you to the postseason.”

Senior Haley Ortmann, a versatile outside hitter and vocal leader who was an all-league selection last season, returns to the court. So, too, will senior Kyla Walter, an honorable-mention all-league middle blocker who became a familiar face for opposing teams near the net.

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They won’t be alone. Four other seniors ” Megan Raczak, Page Cottrell, Robin Landis and Brittany Zanin ” will make their final go-round this season. And every member of the tightknit group, which has played together since seventh grade, is committed to making this one count, Ortmann said.

“We’ve put so much time and energy into what we want to do,” Ortmann said. “The young girls have seen that, and they’re here to help us.”

After failing to win one league contest in 2004, the Skiers showed promise last season. They won six league matches and bested downvalley rivals Basalt and Roaring Fork ” two teams above them in the standings ” at the district tournament in Grand Junction. Aspen was one win away from reaching regionals.

If they are to take that next step, the Skiers will need to strive for consistency. An October match at Basalt epitomized Aspen’s struggles ” the Skiers took the first two games and led Game 3, 18-11, before self-destructing.

“A year makes all the difference,” Bergdahl said. “The players have all grown mentally and physically. They’ve got the energy and the ability. They are all internally motivated. All I do is guide that energy.

“They just need to learn how to close the deal.”

Ortmann said Aspen’s late-match meltdowns were a result of overconfidence.

“Last year, we though we had those games in the bag,” she said. “Now we know there’s a lot of other good teams. We’ll take it one game at a time.”

While games don’t start until Aspen hosts a six-team tournament Sept. 2, the Skiers have already been hard at work. Every player but one played club volleyball during the winter, and many attended camps this summer. They also took part in Bergdahl’s preseason conditioning regimen, which included weightlifting, running and hill climbs.

“I consider them all seasoned vets by now,” Bergdahl said. “They didn’t like me much [this summer], but they will thank me.”

Because they lack numbers, Bergdahl said, the Skiers must avoid injury. Ortmann sat out practice Wednesday after landing awkwardly and injuring her left knee Tuesday. She was planning to see an orthopedist Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m always hurt, it seems,” she said. “I think this is only something minor. I’ll be ready.”

Although Aspen is rich in tenured players who have proven they can play as a unit, Bergdahl said he expects young players to contribute. Among them is Elissa Walter, who becomes just the third sophomore to play varsity since Bergdahl took over in 1999 ” the other two are playing in college.

Bergdahl is banking on experience and overall talent to translate into victories in what will be a deep conference. He’s hoping the team can build on the momentum it created during October: After going 3-6 in September, the Skiers won five of their last six matches and were 8-3 in their final month.

For six Skiers, 2006 is the final chance to make a statement. Bergdahl thinks Aspen will thrive under the pressure.

“These girls are quietly determined,” he said. ” I don’t think there’s urgency. There’s almost a sense of destiny.”

Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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