It got so loud and crazy at times in the gym at Chaparral High School Aug. 31 that Rob Graham could barely communicate with his Grandview team.
In the furthest departure from the spring season a few months earlier that was played largely in front of minimal crowds due to the coronavirus pandemic, fans of the Wolves and host Wolverines packed shoulder to shoulder throughout the gym with very little quiet to be had.
Graham’s unfazed Wolves prevailed in four sets in a rip-roaring early meeting between the teams that came into the season holding the top two spots in CHSAANow.com’s Class 5A coaches and they loved every minute of it.
“It was phenomenal, it was so loud that the players right in front of us couldn’t hear us during time outs,” Graham said. “We had as many fans as they did and every point there was a lot of cheering. The girls loved it and so did I.
“I missed that. Playing volleyball in a quiet gym just isn’t the same.”
It was an early reminder of what high-level girls volleyball can be like in Colorado and Grandview has no shortage of it in the early going of the new season, as it tries to follow up a run to the 5A state championship match in May at the World Arena, where the Wolves lost in four sets to Rampart (story).
Grandview is off to an 8-0 start to the season after winning the loaded Gold Bracket at the Chaparral Showcase tournament Sept. 3-4, during which is bested Chaparral again and topped Highlands Ranch in five sets.
The Wolves’ undefeated started is impressive considering it has made it through a minefield of ranked 5A teams on a schedule Graham designed to be as difficult as possible.
“I’ve had a lot of losses in my career because I always try to schedule the top teams to see where we line up,” he said.
The Grandview group he has shown it is equipped to handle any environment, situation or opponent that might come its way.
Grandview misses the physical presence and intangibles of graduated middle blocker Addison O’Grady — a first-team all-state selection who was awarded the Freddie Steinmark Jr. Award over the summer (story) — but a large cast returns.
Senior setter Maya Deferme is a team captain and a steady barometer for the team, while she has significant chemistry with senior middle Isabel Bennett and outside hitters Haley Glunz, a junior, and sophomore Emerson Deferme. The trio has been been nearly unstoppable in the early going, while junior Gabriella Placide has also contributed, as have several others.
Graham has focused in on work on the mental part of the game — in addition to addressing some woes in the passing game that have appeared early — but said the best part about his group is the demeanor and chemistry they have that can’t be coached.
“This is such a great group of kids and they are pretty mellow, which is hard because I’m a very energetic coach,” Graham said. “I have to try to taper down my energy a little bit. But I have to trust them and I do. Their chemistry is incredible. There is no drama and the kids are such good friends that the support is tremendous.”
Centennial League play awaits Grandview and it won’t be easy, especially with the presence of a Cherry Creek team that greatly impressed the Graham in a preseason scrimmage.
Cherokee Trail and Eaglecrest also present challenges with their tradition and talent, though both are under new coaches this season.
Harry Hendon has taken over for original coach Terry Miller at Cherokee Trail and the Cougars are off to a 4-4 start, though all four of their losses have come to teams ranked in the top 10. Cherokee Trail has a lot of graduated talent to replace, but have an anchor in the back row in libero Gabi Maas and a balanced group of players on the outside.
Eaglecrest is under the guidance of Morgan Gradishar, a former Grandview star, who has former Wolves head coach Patty Childress on her coaching staff. The Raptors have played sparingly in the first weeks of the season and sit 2-2 after falling in three competitive sets to Chaparral Sept. 9.
Senior Dylann Harrower is off to a strong start for Eaglecrest.
Besides Grandview, Hinkley is Aurora’s other undefeated team as the Thunderbirds got to 7-0 with a four-set win over Lincoln Sept. 9. Hinkley — which has been led on the attack by TennyAnn Hartman and junior Leilah Swanson along with senior setter Alexis Perez — topped rival Aurora Central Sept. 7 and then had an opponent forfeit due to possible COVID-19 exposure.
Smoky Hill didn’t win any of its 14 matches in the spring season, but is off to a flying start in the new one with six victories already. Coach Kelly Miller’s Buffaloes — so far led by juniors Nicole Sparks and Jessica Da Silva Martinez — placed fourth in the Blue Bracket at the Chaparral Showcase.
Led by senior Jordan Jones, Regis Jesuit lost to Grandview at the Chaparral tournament, but is 5-4 against a quality early season schedule.
Under new coach Lila Harvey, Overland has matched its win total from the spring season with three so far and just dropped an intense four-set match to Rangeview Sept. 9. A pair of freshmen have boosted the Trailblazers in outside hitter Brianna Hazak and setter Rina Maiava.
Coach Desarae Reese’s Raiders evened their record at 2-2, which also gave them as many wins as they had in Season C. Senior Ellie Barber has been a catalyst for Rangeview.
Vista PEAK has played some quality competition in the early going and is now 2-7 after a tough five-set loss to 7-1 Denver South Sept. 9. Senior Breanna Jefferson, junior Ayden West and sophomore Joy Aburto (who shared EMAC Player of the Year honors in Season C) have paced the Bison.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
AURORA GIRLS VOLLEYBALL RECORDS (THROUGH MATCHES OF SEPT. 9)
Grandview 8-0; Hinkley 7-0 (1-0 EMAC); Smoky Hill 6-3; Cherokee Trail 5-4; Regis Jesuit 5-4; Aurora Central 3-5; Overland 3-6; Eaglecrest 2-2; Rangeview 2-2; Vista PEAK 2-7; Gateway 0-6