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Motivated and mature, Cougars will push for Jeffco title

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By Brian Forbes

Coaches can talk about great players and great chemistry until their Under Armour rots off their bodies, but it doesn’t make it real or true.

Proof, however, can come in unusual ways.

Take the Evergreen volleyball team. Second-year coach Katie Evans recently had her team perform its conditioning drills outside her watchful gaze as she was pulled into a meeting.

Rather than slack, there was a yack. Yes, the girls pushed each other hard enough that someone lost their lunch.

“They work really, really hard,” Evans said. “They are really self-motivated, really driven athletes.”

The Cougars lost just two to graduation and have evolved into a mature, senior-loaded squad, just in time for a run at a league title in the wide open Class 4A Jefferson County.

Evergreen returns: Kate Oakes, a 6-foot, junior outside hitter; Nicole Gruber, a 5-10 senior setter; Annslee Merlo, a senior libero; and Jessica Wolverton, a 5-9 senior outside hitter.

Four seniors will round the squad: Christy Lewis, a 5-10 middle; Katie Helf, a 5-8 middle; Abby Krane, a 5-8 right-side hitter; and Sydney Berdon, a defensive specialist.

Evans caught another glimpse of her girls’ changed work rate during a recent practice when there was a whole new vibe to things. Call it an increased intensity and maturity.

“I was like, ‘The coach hasn’t changed, the drill hasn’t changed, they’ve changed,’” Evans said.

More depth this season means more competition for playing time, which should translate into better games. An added bonus was a team bonding trip the Cougars took recently to a cabin in Grand Lake.

Watch for a faster offense this season and more dynamic blocking schemes, especially in the middle, where the Cougars struggled to repel teams last season.

Gruber, who will hit when Evergreen uses its 6-2 formation, has evolved into the true setter’s role of being a vocal leader on the floor, Evans said.

So who will lead Jeffco now that perennial favorites Ralston Valley are gone to 5A?

“I think it’s up for grabs big time,” Evans said. “You take Ralston Valley out of the picture and it kind of opens up.”