From left, Ally Tealdi, Emma Righetti, Bella Galbo, Corinne Cavender, Zoe Rommel, Morgan Watkinson, Emery Berry and Kyra Levan. (Courtesy photo)

The 2020-21 Telluride High School volleyball season will be memorable for many reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic least among them.

In a season that was moved from its traditional fall slate to spring, the Lady Miners finished the regular season 11-3, ranked No. 17 in the state and competed in the Class 2A Region 8 tournament in Vail over the weekend.

Telluride dropped both regional matches against top state competition, though the tournament results don’t necessarily define the team’s success this season.

“Our first game was against Vail Mountain, where we lost 1-3. We then played Holyoke and lost 0-3. Most of our sets in each match were extremely close, but we kept getting barely edged out. Holyoke went on to win regionals and is heading to state,” first-year head coach Corinne Cavender explained. “In all honesty, the team played the best they did all season. We didn't see that tough of competition all year, and being able to keep up with both teams was impressive. Vail was ranked eighth going in, and Holyoke ninth, and we were 17th, so I was super proud we were able to give them a run for their money. We had to play two best-of-five games in a row, which really tired the girls out. On top of that, the rallies were super long, and the girls were gassed, especially in that last game. All that being said, I think the girls played outstanding.”

The Lady Miners were truly a team, according to Cavender, as every girl contributed in some way throughout the season. Led by seniors Kyra Levan, Morgan Watkinson, Bella Galbo and Maile Silva, Telluride’s experience was a strength. Juniors Emery Berry, Ally Tealdi and Zoe Rommel also all saw significant playing time, particularly Berry who was one of the top performers in the league in kills, hitting percentage, digs and serves. Sophomores Emma Righetti and Rosyln Homer, and freshmen Thea Rommel and Bryn Geiger also stepped up this year, Cavender explained.

While it wasn’t a typical season, as players missed out on regular team meals and overnight trips, Watkinson and Levan both agreed that this team was special, as they shared stories of the fun times they had together.

“For me one of the most memorable moments was to just to get a season and having the opportunity to play one of my favorite sports. There was a lot of talk about there not being a volleyball season, so hearing that we actually got to play was amazing,” Levan said. “Another memorable part was actually the day before our final games in Vail, riding the bus with some of my fellow teammates and getting dinner. I absolutely adore my team and always have so much fun with them, and getting the opportunity to have at least one overnight this season was truly an amazing last hooray for my senior season.”

Watkinson added, “This might sound cheesy, but the most memorable part of the season is the joy I had with the team. It’s really hard to pick out one moment because there are so many good ones. The most recent one that comes to mind was our last regular season game against Mancos (a 3-0 Telluride win). It was one of the most fun games we have ever played. We all just clicked, and it was such an amazing win. The excitement of getting an amazing kill and coming together as a team is such a joy. And on Friday night, right before regionals, we all went out and had dinner, and we just laughed the whole time and made jokes and told stories. It was just the joy of being with each other, especially for the last time.”

Sports create a connection that is beyond wins and losses. Levan called her teammates “one of the best group of girls I’ve ever met” and knew they’d always be there whenever she was having a bad day, including when her fish, Swim Shady, passed away.

“Having that fun environment to go to, especially if I had a hard day at school or just in general was a very special thing for me. I would always get instantly happy when stepping into the gym,” she said. “ … Those moments in practice are something that I’ll cherish forever.”

Watkinson will miss playing volleyball, but said she’ll miss this particular team even more.

“They are such amazing girls, and I can’t believe that it’s over. I am so proud of every single person because every person on that team got us to regionals, and I am so thankful for all of them,” she said. “It’s going to be weird not seeing them every day. I will miss them so much, but I can’t wait to see what they do next year.”

Similarly, Cavendar, who played volleyball herself and won a state championship as a club team coach in her former home of Michigan, will miss the 2020-21 Lady Miners, especially the seniors.

“I'll never forget the final locker room moment with the team while we were at regionals. My last time in the locker room as a player still hits me hard, and honestly this moment with these girls hit me harder. Knowing that this team's journey was over was emotional,” she said, adding that assistant coach Brandon Bredlau helped immensely this year. “I saw all the hard work and struggles the season brought, and it was hard for me to explain how proud I was. As a coach, I wish my players could see themselves from my eyes. It was in that final moment with them that I wish I had the words to explain how fantastic they all are, but I just couldn't find the words.

“The seniors exceeded my expectations as far as my relationships with them. I figured that since I only got one season with them that we wouldn't necessarily get that close. Man, was I wrong. Each of them has an incredible work ethic and is mature and kind. Saying goodbye to Kyra, Morgan, Bella and Maile was extremely difficult and emotional. I'm so impressed with the young women they are.”