Newman: Talent-rich Continental League can cement volleyball dominance with Class 5A state championship

Newman: Talent-rich Continental League can cement volleyball dominance with Class 5A state championship

All fall long, the Continental League ruled Class 5A volleyball.

Now, that reign continues into this week’s state tournament at the Denver Coliseum, where four of the conference’s teams — Mountain Vista, Castle View, Chaparral and Rock Canyon — are qualified and have a legitimate shot of winning the title in a wide-open field.

But the recent rise of Continental volleyball over the past several seasons — a rise that was certainly cemented this season as each of the aforementioned programs consistently dominated The Denver Post power rankings and the CHSAANow poll — begs the question: How did these Douglas County School District programs become the epicenter of Colorado’s prep volleyball universe?

The answer lies somewhere in the sum of population growth, of which the south metro area has seen plenty of over the past decade, plus the close proximity of top-tier club programs such as Colorado Juniors, Colorado Momentum, Elevation Volleyball, Front Range Volleyball Club and the 303 Volleyball Academy to Continental schools.

“All those big, 5A schools around the county have really good head coaches, and then those players are continuing their training at those elite clubs for the remainder of the year,” Castle View coach Scott Dowis said. “They’re getting better, and they’re getting better faster, than some of these other areas of the metro.”

Division I players such as Rock Canyon hitter Keeley Davis (Creighton) and Castle View libero Leanne Lowry (Iowa) ensured the regular-season conference slate was full of slugfests, with Chaparral ultimately emerging as the champion with a 9-1 record in a league that also boasts a 4A state qualifier in Ponderosa.

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“When we battle each other like that, we propel each other,” Mountain Vista coach Doug Schafer said. “It’s intense to play each other and we get motivated to play each other, and that brings our whole league to a higher plain, as evidenced by all the teams constantly in the top 10.”

And despite the fact that other challengers such as defending champion Fossil Ridge and western slope sleeper Fruita Monument will also make a hard charge at the crown, odds are best that one of the Continental squads comes away with it.

Just what one that will be? The Continental team that’s saved its best volleyball of the season for Saturday.

“Whatever team is on that day is going to win,” Rock Canyon coach Angela Nylund-Hanson said, “especially when these teams are so competitive and equal in skill.”


Continental League volleyball 5A state contenders

Castle View

Record: 21-4, 8-2

Championship history: None

Key players: So. L Leanne Lowry, Sr. OH Kate Menz, Sr. MH Ashley Echols, Sr. MH Genna Ryan-Piasecki, Sr. S Lauren Lowry

Chaparral

Record: 20-5, 9-1

Championship history: 2010 5A, 2011 5A

Key players: Sr. OH Grace Haberland, Soph. RS Julianna Dalton, Jr. MH Abby Heimlicher, Sr. S Haley Roberts, Sr. MH Noelle Knutsen, Jr. L Kyla Gerson

Mountain Vista

Record: 21-4, 8-2

Championship history: 2016 5A runner-up

Key players: Sr. MH Amanda Keller, Sr. OH Jordan MacArthur, Sr. L Sam Novak, Sr. MH Brooke Jessen, Sr. S Nicole Lazzell

Rock Canyon

Record: 18-7, 6-4

Championship history: None

Key players: Sr. OH Keeley Davis, Jr. S Abi Leitner, Jr. RS Laryssa Myers, Jr. MH Macy Rushall, So. L Kaylee Mejia

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