FORT COLLINS – Held Sunday in northern Larimer County, the Colorado Coaches of Girls’ Sports All-State Volleyball Games more or less began the previous day, in a different town, with practice sessions and team photographs.
And when three of the Intermountain League’s top players entered the NORCO Volleyball Club facility in Loveland to make ready for the Games’ Class 3A feature in Fort Collins, each couldn’t believe they’d been assigned to the same squad.
“When I walked into the gym and saw them both there, it was like a little comfort; I was like, ‘I know these girls!’” recalled Montezuma-Cortez’s Avery Wright, the league’s player of the year. “And we compete but we also play well together.”
“Feels amazing that I got selected, that my coaches and other coaches trusted me enough to be here,” said La Jara-based Centauri’s Hennessy Mortensen. “It’s a real honor to carry on that legacy. People that I’ve competed with … it was just amazing to see us working together.”
“I knew some (players) who’d be up here, for sure, but it was cool to finally play with them because for four years I’ve played against them,” said Bayfield’s Annie Fusco. “So it was, like … different connections we were making; it was a really cool experience.”
Playing for coaches Ben and Cara Reeser, both of Loveland Resurrection Christian, the IML trio and 3A-Red team found goings difficult against 3A-Blue, skippered by Arvada Faith Christian’s Chris Powers and Amber Havekost.
Emboldened by the vicious hitting of Lamar’s Fernanda Merancio, Sterling’s Emerie Rios and, ironically, RC’s Jeorgia Jones, Blue would storm out to an 8-1 lead, take Game 1 by a score of 25-13, then withstand Red’s best approaches in Games 2 and 3 to sweep a best-of-three match, with three games guaranteed.
“We were doing what we normally do, just at a higher level,” Fusco said. “We were trying to work hard on our blocking, and they were just working around our block. It was crazy.”
“We don’t get to see a lot of competition like that in league, necessarily,” Wright said. “So it was great to see girls throwing the ball down that hard – they reminded me a lot of club volleyball, like, when I used to play (defensive specialist). I wanted to play defense against them more in the back but unfortunately didn’t get to.”
Needed more inside the Fossil Ridge High School gymnasium as a weapon of attack along with Fusco, Wright would give Blue cause for a pause in Game 2, with a kill that gave Red an 18-17 lead. And though Blue would regain the upper hand, forcing Red to call timeout down 23-22, the match’s designated visitors never went away – even after Jones destroyed a perfect set by Kersey Platte Valley’s Cora Schissler to bring up game point at 24-22. FC’s Catelyn Havekost then secured the win with an ace in the center of Red’s back row.
Fusco struck back early in Game 3, with a serve Schissler couldn’t field even with a dive. Red would soon go up 5-3 when Havekost found herself aced by usual Faith teammate Anna Ruter. Blue would draw even again, but Red seemed to have an answer in the form of a Wright kill regaining a 6-5 advantage. And so things went until Ruter served an ace tying the score at 16-16. Her subsequent delivery unfortunately found the strings, giving Blue a lead they’d hold until the end.
Merancio brought up match point, 24-19, with a kill, and Sterling’s Sydney Henry then slotted one past Fusco and Ruter.
“It was a little overwhelming,” said the jump-setting Mortensen. “And I was really nervous at first, getting to know different people … but it was so much fun – more than I expected. I’m so glad I got this opportunity. It feels awesome.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be playing volleyball in college, so … to, like, say, ‘This might be it,’ it was a nice way to end it, I think,” Wright said. “Paired with Annie and Hennessy, both amazing players … it was just an amazing, like, last hurrah.”
“To be recognized with the best of the best, it’s really rewarding,” Fusco said. “I’m appreciative of the opportunity.”