Crusaders see chance to join elite in Sunset


Faith Lutheran girls volleyball coach Amy Fisher has little regard for the status quo.

For more than a decade, the same teams have dominated Sunset Region play. Bishop Gorman, Centennial, Durango and Palo Verde have combined to win every Sunset title since 1999, and other schools have met with little success in changing that formula.

Fisher’s squad finally appears poised to do it.

Since jumping from Class 3A to 4A competition two years ago, the Crusaders have been on a steady rise. They placed third in the Northwest League during their first 4A season in 2009 and finished second to Centennial last year.

This year, Fisher said she thinks her squad has the potential to do some real damage.

“We only lost one starter after last season, and we’ve got five coming back,” the sixth-year coach said. “The kids have set high expectations for themselves. They want to vie for a conference championship and they want to get to state. This year, I think these are appropriate goals.”

Though the outlook wasn’t always so rosy for the Crusaders, it was never as bad as one might expect. Many teams climbing to 4A flounder for years before seeing success. Some never get there.
Fisher admitted she had initial doubts.

“We were always vying for a conference championship at the 3A level,” said Fisher, whose squad had grown accustomed to breezing through relatively light league schedules. “When we moved up, we wondered if we were ever going to get back there.”

But the Crusaders were prepared to make the necessary adjustments.

“There were only five teams at 3A,” Fisher said. “So we ended up playing many 4A schools anyway. We often played outside our conference, so the competition was always a level up.”

Fisher’s squad, already accustomed to the higher level of play, qualified for the regional tournament last season and logged its first postseason victory by defeating Bonanza in the first round.

The coach, who said she thinks her roster is even more potent than last year’s 23-11 squad, expects senior Kelsey McCourt to lead the way.

“Kelsey has been a consistent setter for the last four years,” Fisher said. “She brings a lot of leadership to the program.”

McCourt gladly accepts that role.

“I’m the leader on the court,” she said. “But I’m more of a silent leader. I lead by example.”

McCourt knows there is still plenty of work to do. Though her team rolled past Sylmar (Calif.), Buhach Colony (Calif.), Foothill, Pahrump Valley and Arbor View in the season-opening Las Vegas Invitational at Las Vegas High, the Crusaders were beaten by Bonanza in the Gold Division quarterfinals.

“We all want it,” said McCourt, who logged 94 assists in six matches. “But we’re not going to take anything lightly.”

McCourt will receive veteran help from two juniors — 6-foot middle hitter Taylor Hammer and 5-6 outside hitter Taylor Richards. With nine other returning letter winners in the mix, the Crusaders (5-1) look tough.

Fisher said she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’ve always had a strong tradition here,” the coach said. “It’s built into the kids. They have the expectation that they’ll be successful.”
 

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Arbor View: Amber Graham, Erika Kelly, Falon Miller
Bishop Gorman: Kylee Chun, Shelby Devlin, Breanna Rubalcaba
Bonanza: Bree Hammel, Jessica Wilcox
Centennial: Ashley Hill, Lacy Miyahira, Kassidy Welte
Coronado: Kuulei Piena
Faith Lutheran: Taylor Hammer, Kelsey McCourt, Taylor Richards
Green Valley: Alexa Drost, Carly Schiess, Jenna Swaffer
Las Vegas: Tiffany Jackson, Desirae Lair
Palo Verde: Stephanie Herman
Sierra Vista: Taylor Price
Silverado: Kayla Agae
Valley: Lenore Porter