For the second time in three years, the Lady Panthers are going to the state volleyball tournament.
This year, though, is different.
They won’t be happy just to have made it this far. They want to win.
Rangely lost all three of its matches in pool play at the 2008 state tournament.
Dennis Rohn expects better things this time around.
Last year, Rohn was part of the Rangely Senior High volleyball team, serving as an assistant coach to Jimmie Mergelman.
This year, because his job required him to work out of town, Rohn wasn’t able to be a part of the volleyball program.
But he’s followed the team from a distance.
And he’s been impressed with what he’s seen.
“They have definitely come alive this year,” Rohn said. “I knew they had something special. I could see it was just a matter of putting all the pieces together.”
One of those pieces was the return of Victoria Phelan, who sat out last season while recovering from knee surgery.
“I knew with the addition of Vic that they would have the firepower,” Rohn said. “It was just an addition to an already powerful team.”
Almost all of last year’s team — minus one starter, Audrey Hogan — returned this season.
“We lost somebody really special last year with Audrey, who was a great leader and a great setter,” Rohn said. “They were solid last year, but they had a hard time finishing. One thing I looked for at (last Saturday’s) regional tournament was how they finish. How do they react when they get down? There were a couple of times when they were down by eight and it wasn’t but a couple of minutes later and they were up by six. That showed me how much they have matured.”
Rangely won all three of its matches against Telluride, Paonia and Mancos at last weekend’s regional tournament, while not losing a game the entire tournament.
“Congrats to the Lady Panthers on all their accomplishments this season,” said Christy Atwood, Meeker volleyball coach, who attended the regional tournament. “Not only are they a good volleyball team, but a great group of girls. We wish them the best of luck this weekend. They will represent the league well.”
With seniors including Kelsey Harvey, Dakota Kenney, Marie Morton, Victoria Phelan, Mikayla Schoenfeld, Torie Slagle and Rozilynn Thacker, the Lady Panthers showed at the regional tournament they don’t get easily rattled, even if they are behind.
Younger players, like sophomore Brittany Babineaux, junior Haeley Enterline and sophomore Quincey Thacker, have also played a key role in the team’s success this season.
“There’s something to be said for experience. And as far as all of the seniors, yeah, there’s a lot of them,” Rohn said. “But there’s a lot of younger players coming up, too. If you noticed (at the regional tournament), there’s one rotation that they have that’s two sophomores and a junior on the front row — Quincey, Brit and Haeley — and they got the job done.”
Rohn credits Mergelman for blending the senior maturity and experience on this year’s team with a solid bunch of younger players.
“She has done marvelous things with that group,” Rohn said. “She’s done a great job. I applaud Jimmie.”
Now it’s on to the state tournament.
Rohn said this team has what it takes to win it all.
“You don’t see a group of girls like this very often,” he said.
If they do it, they would become only the second state-championship team in Rangely’s history and the first in more than 50 years. Rangely won a state championship in track in 1959.
Rohn cautioned the Lady Panthers to keep their focus on the task at hand.
“If I could say something to the girls it would be, don’t get involved in the hype. Don’t get sucked into the oohs and ahhs of a state tournament,” Rohn said. “My advice to them would be you have a job to do. We did not come here to have a party. We can celebrate after the job is done.”
Rohn comes from a volleyball family. His mother, Marge, is a former volleyball coach at Meeker High School. So he knows a good team when he sees one.
“My mom had some really good teams, but this team right here is by far the more powerful in all aspects of the game than I’ve ever seen,” Rohn said. “If they don’t get involved in the hype, they will do fine. Just keep that goal in mind. They have done a tremendous job of taking it one step at a time, winning one battle at a time.
“Now they have a chance to win the war.”
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As far as the loud, rumbling noise reported Oct. 27, there’s been no new information about what caused it.
“We haven’t had any more reports on this. All we have right now is speculation that it may have been a sonic boom,” said Sara Mee, with the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office. “The night that we received the report, I contacted the National Earthquake Information Center in Denver and they did not register any type of activity in our area that day, so it was not an earthquake. Deputy Cory Dilka patrolled the area of the initial report to see if he could see any smoke or anything out of place. As we got more reports, ranging all the way from County Road 4 to within the city limits, that was kind of hopeless, and we never received any reports of any kind of damage. There is not much else we can go on.”
• • • • •
Rio Blanco County voters turned out in big numbers for the general election — 76 percent.
“For a gubernatorial election, our percentages were amazing compared to past elections,” said Rio Blanco County Clerk Nancy Amick. “In 2006, we had a 62 percent turnout; 2002, a 67 percent turnout; and 1998, a 60 percent turnout — so interest was certainly high.”
• • • • •
There was a George Seifert spotting recently.
Seifert, the former coach of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers, was in Rangely.
“He was out here hunting,” said Bill Hodges, owner of Pinyon Tree Liquors. “He’s been here before.”
Seifert was the coach of the 49ers in 1989 and 1994 when they won the Super Bowl.
• • • • •
Apologies to Chayton Bumguardner, whose last name was spelled incorrectly in last week’s elk bugling results. Chayton finished third among the second-grade competitors.
• • • • •
Joe Conrado, sorry for taking the last two pieces of pumpkin pie at the annual St. James Episcopal Church Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday night. The nice ladies of St. James insisted. Really.
That’s my story anyway.
• • • • •
While taking photos of Todd and Michelle Shults’ 1-year-old twins at the St. James Thanksgiving dinner, I tried moving to a different position and tripped over a chair.
I would have done a nosedive onto the floor, had it not been for Todd, who fortunately was seated in front of me, catching my fall. Or, rather, it was more like me landing on him.
At least I wasn’t carrying a plate of food.
And my clumsiness seemed to work on the twins. They smiled for the camera.
Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.