RIDGWAY – Before the girls on the Ridgway Secondary School volleyball squad jumped into their 2013 season, they sat down together and came up with a few goals: be a family, respect each other, be enthusiastic. Notably, not one of these goals had to do with winning. And yet, the team is headed to the Denver Coliseum this Friday to compete for the Colorado Class 2A volleyball title.
Seeded eighth out of 12 teams in the 2A bracket, the Lady Demons earned the a spot in the tourney as the Class 2A Wild Card team. They will first face off against 12th-seeded Meeker on Friday morning, Nov. 8, at 8 a.m. and then battle the top-seeded Resurrection Christian, a Front Range private school, on Saturday at 9:30 a.m.
If they win either game, they get to continue competing in the double elimination tournament and perhaps have a shot at the state title. A total of 60 teams from 1A through 5A schools will be competing at the state tournament, but only five of them are from the Western Slope.
Ridgway volleyball team captains Grace Benasutti and Lida McNatt couldn’t be more thrilled that the Ridgway Demons will be among them. McNatt is the team’s libero; she rules the back row – it’s her job to serve, dig and pass. Benasutti is an opposite hitter, a second setter, and “everything else,” she laughed.
The two have played volleyball together their entire high school career, but, they agree, this is by far the best season they’ve had so far. Since the season got underway two and a half short months ago, they have led their team to 20 wins and only four losses, culminating with a thrilling 1st place finish at the district tournament in Mancos on Oct. 26.
But more important than their impressive record, they say, is the esprit de corps that has blossomed among the teammates. They have, in fact, achieved the primary goal they set out for themselves at the beginning of the season: to become a family.
“It’s definitely a new feeling,” said Benasutti. “It never felt like this before; we have become really close.”
Fellow senior Rebekah LaSala agreed. She opted not to play volleyball last year, after having a less than positive experience on the team as an underclassman. This year, it’s completely different.
“I’ve never been on a team so close-knit as this before,” she said. “We incorporate everyone; no one is left out, either on or off the court. When someone messes up, we don’t bring them down. It’s made a big difference.”
“We have a passion for each other,” McNatt said of the 18-member squad, which includes only the three seniors. There are no superstars, prima donnas or queen bees here. “Everyone plays an equal part on the team,” she emphasized. “All of them are super-good. This is just the beginning.”
The girls attribute their winning season to this new focus on team-building. But it didn’t hurt that legendary Ridgway basketball athlete Tracy Hill, recently inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame, agreed to come on board as head volleyball coach at RSS this year.
“It’s been really cool,” Benasutti said. “We knew her before, but not on a personal level. She’s very much into the mental aspect of the sport. During some practice sessions, we don’t even pick up a ball.”
Coach Hill “is not a yeller,” the girls said. “And she doesn’t come across as a strict coach, but she has high expectations.”
At a practice session earlier this week, it was also apparent that Hill and assistant coach Amy Rutherford were perfectly happy to let the girls run the show. Practice got underway enthusiastically, with no input from Hill and Rutherford who simply stood on the sidelines, watching the girls scrimmage to the tune of loud, upbeat music blasting through the gym’s sound system.
Hill was reluctant to be interviewed, explaining that it’s really all about the girls on the court. “I came back to give back,” she said. “We have an easy job; they do the hard part.”
Rutherford, who has coached the seniors on the squad since their freshman year, agreed. “They have grown as athletes, and as young ladies,” she reflected. “I think that has given them success; they have become a family.”
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