Longhorns charging toward Slope title | AspenTimes.com

Longhorns charging toward Slope title

Jon Maletz

Basalt junior Esmeralda Salvartierra digs a ball during practice at Basalt High School on Wednesday afternoon. The Longhorns host Battle Mountain at 6 p.m. today. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

As Basalt High School diligently prepared for its first open house of the new school year Wednesday, the corridors and classrooms were shrouded in eerie calm.Students lounged in the hallways; one strummed a guitar while others paged through textbooks, their heads resting on backpacks. Inside the school’s main gym, however, energy, excitement and anticipation abounded.Loud shouts, cheers and words of encouragement echoed off of gym walls. Errant volleyballs ricocheted off the shiny hardwood floor, bounding into the bleachers and through opened doors. The noise ceased only momentarily when a missed serve resulted in a mandatory 15-pushup penalty. On the eve of the Basalt girls volleyball home opener at 6 tonight against Battle Mountain (3-0, 0-0), it is all about business.

“We’ve been a little quiet on the court during games, which I know is a little hard to believe right now,” first-year Longhorns head coach Erin Holmes said. “All these girls have a huge love for the sport and have played together for so long. It is good to see their hard work is paying off.”They spent days in the August heat surviving two-a-day practices, working on agility drills and building endurance and speed on sprints up hills surrounding the school. The team took summer trips to compete in tournaments in Sterling and Greeley. Passion, enthusiasm and practices run with assembly line-like efficiency all resulted in an impressive opening weekend on the court.Despite having a roster without a single senior and two key players lost to injury, the Longhorns won four of their five matches in tournament play Saturday, defeating Telluride, Coal Ridge, Grand Valley and Rangeley by a combined score of 8-0. Basalt now stands alone atop the Western Slope’s 3A division standings.The Longhorns return six players with varsity experience. Junior Bailey Holmes, the head coach’s daughter, was a first-team all-conference selection in 2004, while junior setter Elisabeth Nemiec and sophomore Dayne Toney each received honorable mention.

“I think we have a strong group of girls who all have their special talents,” Bailey said. “When we come to play, we can really play well.”Quick starts are nothing new for the Longhorns, who opened 2004 with a 6-0 mark before losing four of their last eight. In 2003, Basalt won nine of its first 10 en route to a 10-3 record and a conference title – it’s fourth ever and first since 1988.Raising another banner into the rafters will demand increased mental focus and decreased lapses in communication. There will be pressure on assistant coaches Dave Drozd and Bree Wilson to spark enthusiasm and solid play. Coach Holmes, now in her eighth year with the program, has handed over the bulk of the coaching duties to her young attendants, whom she said bring refreshing youthful exuberance.It also wouldn’t hurt for the team to stay out of one another’s way.Bailey has been out for a week after rolling her ankle on a teammate’s leg during a scrimmage. The severe sprain forced her to watch from the sidelines Saturday. She is not expected to return to the lineup until next week.

“The moment it happened, I thought it was breaking off and I thought I was gonna look down and my foot would be gone,” Bailey said. “It’s been really tough because I’ve never been hurt before. It’s just hard not being included.”Hiding a hard plastic boot under a pair of faded blue jeans Wednesday, Bailey participated in spike drills, limped into a huddle to take part in team cheers, even kept score while relegated to the sidelines during an intrasquad scrimmage.She looked on as fellow standout Nemiec returned to her first practice since Saturday. Nemiec collided with teammate Cassie Meyer during the tournament, knocking loose her two front teeth. She was rushed to Grand Junction for emergency dental surgery.”They didn’t fall out, and they weren’t super-loose, so I was lucky,” said Nemiec, whose wide smile revealed a custom-made yellow mouthguard. “This is my first day practicing with it, and when I talk I get laughed at. It suffocates my mouth.

“I will definitely be looking around a lot more and won’t be as aggressive,” she added. The Longhorns will need to be aggressive tonight if they are to compete with the Huskies. Battle Mountain has outscored opponents on service points 190-0 and has notched 55 more kills. The Huskies defeated Basalt, 3-0, last year in the only meeting between the schools.”We’ve played lower level teams so its hard to tell how good we are,” Nemiec said. “We’re gonna have step up to the occasion against Battle Mountain.”Jon Maletz can be contacted at jmaletz@aspentimes.com