The gymnasium at Chatfield Senior High School was rocking on Sept. 23.
For Ali Longo, that just fuels her fire.
“When there’s a big crowd and there’s lots of noise, I think it just raises everyone’s energy level a bit,” said Longo after the Chargers disposed of rival Dakota Ridge in three games, 25-16, 25-19, 25-16.
Longo, one of five seniors on a talented Chatfield squad, blasted the Eagles all night with powerful kills, finishing with 14 on the night. Longo painted the lines and also went right through the middle of the Dakota Ridge defense.
Mary Pollmiller got into the swing of things for the Chargers. Pollmiller set the tone early with a pair of ferocious hits and she effectively put the first game away with a kill that gave the Chargers (7-3) a commanding nine-point lead.
“We’ve been working a lot on our service to our attacking,” Longo said. “The hard work is paying off.”
After taking the first game, Chatfield opened the second game on a 9-1 run. To its credit, Dakota Ridge (3-7) didn’t fold up its tent. Instead, they continued to battle and pulled within four at 20-16 before the Chargers seized control.
The Eagles hung close early in the third game but Chatfield’s size and power proved too much. The Chargers, behind a trio of kills from Longo and aces by Stephanie Coufal and Grace Newkirk, pulled away and picked up the win in the Class 5A Jefferson County League opener.
“We have a lot of players back from last year that have varsity experience,” Longo said. “It helps a ton to have all that experience. We have a lot of goals; we’ve set the bar pretty high so we’re going to keep working as hard as we can so that we make sure we achieve them.”
While the Chargers’ goals this season are lofty, at Dakota Ridge, it’s all about rebuilding.
New coach Nikki Kneuer, a Dakota Ridge graduate, is trying to get her players to not focus so much on the scoreboard but on what is actually happening out on the court.
“I don’t get caught up in the score,” Kneuer said. “For me, it’s all about what we do, and I’ve told the girls that. We’re learning as we go and the girls are working very hard. It’s encouraging to see them putting in the work. They are committed to getting better.
“I thought from the middle of the second game on, we played pretty well. We don’t have big guns like Chatfield does with (Longo and Pollmiller), but we’re not going to see that kind of player every night. We’ll get better and keep getting after it.”
Kneuer, who played college volleyball at Mesa State, views her job at Dakota Ridge like a college job.
“The juniors and seniors that are here aren’t really ‘my girls,’” Kneuer said. “I’m spending a lot of time working with the girls that are already in place, but I’m also spending time with the Level III, freshman and JV kids to get them ready and to improve their skills.
“The goal is to get the program back to being a league contender like it was when I was in school.”