Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
Bayfield High School volleyball coach Kelley Rifilato will borrow a page from the Wolverines’ football playbook at the CHSAA Class 3A Girls Volleyball State Championships in Denver.
The volleyball Wolverines, like their gridiron counterparts, will run the middle. And they will block.
“We need to establish the middle right away (at the state tournament),” Rifilato said as she prepared No. 3 BHS (22-3) for Friday afternoon’s opening pool-play match against No. 10 Colorado Springs Christian (18-7) at the Denver Coliseum.
“We’ve gotten better at that here at the end of the season,” Rifilato said with a reference to dominating regional victories over Jefferson Academy and Trinidad last weekend.
“If we can establish the middle, that will fire up all our hitters.”
Rifilato said the new three-team pools at the state tournament elevate the importance of a fast, early middle attack, such as those from senior Jen Phelps and sophomore Kirstie Hillyer at regionals.
“The other thing is, our blocking needs to be fundamentally sound,” Rifilato said. “We have to dominate from the blocking side. We know we have a size advantage ... we have to use it.”
The veteran volleyball coach said prep teams that qualify for state attack with regularity from the outside.
“We want to force people to go away from that. We want them to change their game,” Rifilato said of the Bayfield block with combinations of the towering 6-5 Hillyer next to the 6-1 Kayla J. McCoy and the veteran Phelps, a four-year starter, along with Lindsey Reinmuth and Layne Bulwan.
“The block forces teams to go to something they normally don’t go to,” Rifilato said.
Colorado Springs Christian and Gunnison will present strong hitting attacks in their pool at state.
“We also want to press the tempo of the (match),” said Rifilato, again recalling a stretch from last weekend: During one span over two sets against Trinidad at the regionals, BHS went on a stunningly quick 30-6 run.
“The thing I loved about that was ... Suzie (Rhodes) was running a quick offense,” Rifilato said of her sophomore setter. “She isolated a lot of hitters with only one blocker or no block.”
Rhodes set to six different hitters for kills at the regional championship, most going to Hillyer and Phelps.
That regional title sent the Wolverines back to the familiar venue of the Denver Coliseum for CHSAA’s postseason tournament. But the schedule and pool-play alignments this year are markedly different than in the past.
The Wolverines’ first match in the three-team pool will start about 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. They will play No. 6 seed Gunnison (22-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The winner of the three-team pool will advance to Saturday’s semifinals, and the championship is set for 7 p.m. Saturday.
With the different schedule this year, Rifilato said the Wolverines will take advantage of a unique opportunity before the first match at state: They will go to Colorado State University to watch the Thursday night match between host CSU and UNLV at Moby Arena in Fort Collins.
“We’ve never had an opportunity to do anything like this (at state),” said Rifilato, who has led Bayfield volleyball to a 90-18 record over the last four seasons.
“We don’t have to get to bed early Thursday night, and we don’t have to get up early Friday morning,” Rifilato said.
“I want these kids to see volleyball at the highest level, so we’ll take it all in.”