Most Viewed Stories
Volleyball preview: Cheyenne Mtn., Lewis-Palmer lead a loaded field of local 4A teams
Monique Domme wanted to make one point perfectly clear.
“Alexa Smith is a stud,” she said. “Write that down. She is a stud.”
Domme and Cheyenne Mountain haven’t earned four consecutive 4A volleyball titles by ducking the top competition, and the Indians couldn’t have been more gracious in welcoming more challengers this year. Tops among those contenders is Lewis-Palmer, which returns Smith — the state’s top freshman last year — and add two star seniors into the mix.
Coronado and Air Academy will also be formidable.
“We are so excited to have all this competition,” Domme said. “We’re just stoked.”
This could certainly be a memorable volleyball season in the region, as the state’s two best 4A teams both play in the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference. It’s similar to last year’s boys’ basketball season, when Lewis-Palmer and Sierra were on a season-long collision course that brought a tremendous league championship tilt and ultimately a state final that came down to a late 3-pointer from Justin Smith — Alexa Smith’s brother.
It’s no stretch to imagine Alexa providing the deciding blow in what looks like another season-long slugfest.
“This is the year that we can contend with them,” Lewis-Palmer coach Susan Odenbaugh said. “The last four years they’ve just had tons more talent than we’ve had. I think we can play with them and it’s going to be a very good game.”
While Smith will remain the showcase player after leading the state in kills (545) and ranking fourth in digs (452), the Rangers have plenty of help for the sophomore.
UCLA-bound, 6-foot-6 senior Claire Felix transferred from TCA and Mickey Moss, an all-state selection as a sophomore, is back after missing last season with injuries.
Felix cited a desire to take an Advanced Placement Environmental Studies class as the primary reason for leaving the Titans. She also liked that Lewis-Palmer offered a block schedule, which she saw as a better preparation for college. Of course, the chance to play a higher level of volleyball didn’t hurt.
“It’s hard traveling to small little towns all the time,” said Felix, who will miss the first 11 matches of the season but return in time for the league opener against Palmer Ridge. “But it’s going to be really fun. It’s going to be hard sitting part of the season, but in the end it’s going to be really worth it.”
Left unsaid was the fact that Felix would have been playing for her fourth coach in as many seasons at TCA. By contrast, Odenbaugh is entering her 10th season as Lewis-Palmer’s coach after a dozen years as an assistant at the school.
“On top of the great players, they have a great coach,” Cheyenne Mountain coach David Barkley said of his L-P counterpart. “If (Odenbaugh) has talent, she’s going to find a way to beat you. They got to state last year with one player, basically.”
Cheyenne Mountain’s dynasty featured a star in Janae Vander Ploeg, who is now at Northern Arizona, but has been built primarily on waves of talent.
“One reason I keep 14 on varsity is I can lose five seniors and I’ve got nine returners,” said Barkley, whose team loses three of its top four hitters. “Some barely played in matches last year, but they’ve experienced the varsity experience, the offense that we run, they’ve experienced the big crowds, they’ve been on the floor at state. They don’t have to learn that from scratch.”
The leader of this Indians team is Domme, the setter who has committed to Pepperdine.
“We just all connect so well with her,” said senior Megan Schultz, who has committed to CSU-Pueblo. “She knows how to run the court.”
While Lewis-Palmer will feature the all-around skills of Smith and a front line that at times will go 6-1 (Moss), 6-6 (Felix) and 6-1 (Smith), Cheyenne Mountain will lean on its ball control and Domme’s ability to control the attack.
“We’re going to be like mirror opposites,” Barkley said. “Alexa Smith is going to get her points. She’s just too good. But if we can find a way to keep them from being effective with their slide with Claire and Mickey Moss, then that will help us.”
Cheyenne Mountain and Lewis-Palmer meet on Oct. 16 in Monument. They could then meet again at a Cheyenne Mountain tournament Oct. 26 and 27 that fills the open date left by the elimination of the district round as the Colorado High School Activities Association tweaked the postseason format.
The other major change this year is the division of the area’s 16 4A teams into two leagues. The Pikes Peak Athletic Conference figures to be tough front-to-back, led by Cheyenne Mountain, Lewis-Palmer and Air Academy, which could play spoiler behind two stars in Jordan Pingel and Chelsea Payne.
Coronado, which dropped last year’s state final to Cheyenne Mountain, loses a number of key players but returns coach Don Lash for a second season. The Cougars can expect challenges in the 4A Metro from Mesa Ridge and Widefield.
The season begins on Thursday. For area teams, it won’t likely end until the final match on Nov. 10 at Denver Coliseum.
The 21/2 months between should be a wild ride.
“It is really cool,” Smith said. “I feel really special being a part of it.”