Loaded with seniors, Aspen volleyball is confident with the season finally here
The same intangibles that carried the Aspen High School volleyball team to one of its best seasons in recent memory a season ago are back in full force this fall.
“We have a lot of talent and we have a lot of heart and that’s something that made our team really great last year,” AHS senior setter Gaia Murphy said. “We have a lot of excitement about this season. It’s been building up this past month.”
And a long month it’s been.
Aspen opens its season Thursday night at Roaring Fork in Carbondale, making it one of the last teams to start play. The Rams have already played four times, getting to 4-0 after Tuesday’s sweep over Rifle. That’s more wins than Fork had all of last season (going 3-19). The Rams are in their first season under coach Karen Crownhart. Aspen swept Roaring Fork in their only matchup last fall.
“They are just so excited to get started it doesn’t matter who we are playing — I think they are going to come out swinging,” AHS coach Bailey Holmes said. “The energy in the gym is the best I’ve felt it in the five years I’ve been here. We are all very excited to see where the season is going to take us.”
Holmes, a 2007 Basalt High School graduate who spent three seasons as an Aspen assistant before taking over as the head coach last fall, guided the Skiers to a 13-8 overall record in her first season in charge. It was Aspen’s first time finishing above .500 since the 2008 season.
The 2017 season ended with a pair of regional losses to Faith Christian and Rye, the team’s first postseason games since 2011.
“I felt like nobody really knew we made it to the playoffs. But it was a really big deal for us,” AHS senior outside hitter Mary Williams said. “I’m so excited. We are looking pretty good.”
The Skiers did lose four seniors off last year’s squad, but statistically speaking return the heart of that team. Murphy has plenty of options to pass to, led by Williams on the front line. She won’t be alone, as seniors Tate Randel, Jasmin Hanson and sophomore Zuleika Hanson will factor into the scoring, as well.
Seniors Katie Yocum, Sabrina Turbidy and Zoe Guthrie, as well as junior Kat Goralka, add to an extremely experienced varsity roster.
“We have a lot of maturity on the court. We have a lot of players who have the technique. They are not just great players who can hit super hard,” Murphy said. “Also, we are major role models, I think, for the younger players. I’ve had girls come up to me all season saying, ‘Can you help me with this? Can you help me with that?’ So I think it builds this essence of leadership on the court and with the whole program here in Aspen.”
Now, it’s down to getting this experience back on the court. After going 7-2 in the 3A Western Slope League last season — finishing third behind Delta and league champion Coal Ridge — the Skiers aren’t trying to sell themselves short this fall. Coal Ridge and Roaring Fork are both receiving votes to be ranked in 3A by CHSAANow.com this week, but the Rams still have a lot to prove and the Titans, a perennial powerhouse, are off to a rough 2-3 start after losing a lot of key seniors from last year’s 21-4 team.
Meaning, the door is wide open for a team like Aspen to make a move toward the top of the WSL hierarchy, a place it hasn’t been in a long time. After Thursday’s game at Roaring Fork, the Skiers aren’t slated to play again until their Sept. 13 home opener against Basalt.
“A lot of them really focused on volleyball during the offseason and it’s already starting to show. Their teamwork and skill is better than it’s ever been,” Holmes said. “We are champing at the bit, for sure. It’s hard seeing all the other teams in our league already having played two or three matches. But I feel like we are going to come out with a bang and surprise everyone. I feel everyone is waiting to see what we are going to do, so I’m sure they are just as anxious as we are.”
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.