Plenty of talent on display at Durango Fall Classic

Bob Kelly knows one thing is for sure about the Durango Fall Classic.

“You’re going to see, up close, some of the most talented high school players and teams in the country competing against each other,” said the tournament director and former Durango volleyball coach. “This is the largest tournament with the deepest field in the country.”

The two-day long spectacle showcases 48 high school teams representing seven states, including defending tournament champion Assumption (Ky.) and a bevy of Division I college prospects.

Twenty-nine California squads will compete, including a pair that began the year in the top five of’s national rankings — powerhouse Torrey Pines (No. 1) and Marymount (No. 4) — and 2011 tournament runner-up Los Alamitos.

Perennial local powers Green Valley and Coronado, along with Durango, Foothill, Shadow Ridge, Bonanza, and Bishop Gorman are the Southern Nevada teams in the field.

“It’s a tough tournament,” said Coronado coach Matt Johnson, whose Cougars club will square off against Notre Dame (Ky.) at 3 p.m. Friday at Faiss Middle School. “We, of course, are trying to win. But realistically, we’re looking to be challenged and hopefully see as many different circumstances as we possibly can.”

Coronado (8-2) will be tested without last year’s first-team all-league selection Berkeley Oblad, who is shelved until October with a stress fracture in her foot.  Johnson noted freshman Cali Thompson and senior Lia Herlosky as two players he expects to fill the void.

“We’re going into this tournament kind of banged up,” said Johnson. “So we’re really looking at our young players to be challenged and step up.”

Friday’s matches, hosted at Durango, Foothill, Green Valley, Bishop Gorman and Faiss, will showcase each team in 16 three-team pools, all vying for a chance to play in Saturday’s Championship Bracket.

Durango will face the tough task of battling Assumption in the opening match at 3 p.m. Friday at home.

On Saturday, the top 16 teams will square off at Durango in the Championship Qualifying round for an opportunity to advance through the top bracket to the 6 p.m. championship match.

Green Valley (13-0), last year’s Class 4A state champion and the top local finisher in last season’s tournament, earned the most favorable draw of the Nevada teams with a second spot in its pool. The Gators start with Long Beach Poly (Calif.) at 4 p.m. Friday at Green Valley.

Johnson said the Cougars, who hope to challenge Green Valley for the Sunrise Region title, will use the tournament to gauge their collective status as a team.

“We try to assess ourselves based on ourselves,” Johnson said. “It looks like right now a road to a state championship, at least in the South, is going through Green Valley. But we try not to concern ourselves as much with that. We just try to get better than we were yesterday and hopefully keep on improving.”

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