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The start of the 2016 CHSAA volleyball season is right around the corner, and before the season begins the Colorado Sports Network will profile a number of 5A and 4A teams who will be in title contention this fall. To kick off our previews, we went one-on-one with second-year Fairview coach Kelsey Spencer, who led the Knights to a state runner-up showing last year and again boasts a loaded lineup entering August:

Fairview coach Kelsey Spencer

Colorado Sports Network editor Kyle Newman: Coming off a run to the state championship match in your first season as the Fairview coach, what kinds of things are you looking to build on from last season?

Fairview coach Kelsey Spencer: I think there’s a lot we did really, really well last year, and there’s still a lot that we can improve upon this year. Having more experience under my belt will help me make better decisions on what tournaments to participate in and just overall knowing what to do in different situations.

We’ve got a lot of our starters back as seniors, so we’ll have a really mature team. A couple of our players have been on varsity since their freshman year, so going into the season it’s good to have been in the state championship and know what it takes to get there. We have that taste in our mouth, so the goal is to go back and get the gold this time.

KN: What kinds of things this summer have you been doing, and what kinds of tournaments, in order to get your team ready to make another run like you did last fall?

KS: This summer, we’ve more been working on our individual skills and less on scrimmaging and tournaments and stuff… We’ve been doing lots of workouts, getting in really good shape, doing lots of camps, so the girls are working really hard and I think we’re going to hit the ground running in mid-August.

Junior middle blocker Christine Schmiedeler recorded 170 kills in 2015.

KN: You’ve got setter Audrey Cheng coming back, who earned BoCo Preps Player of the Year honors last fall and is committed to Columbia. Considering the season she had last year with 585 assists, is it almost scary to think that she’s going to be even better this season?

KS: Yeah, I’m really excited about her. She’s such a strong player, a smart player and she really knows how to run an offense well. So it’s amazing to know she’s going to come back this fall even better and an even better leader, and I really can’t wait to watch what she does this season.

KN: Another one of last year’s captains, senior outside hitter Caroline Schmiedeler, is also returning; who besides Cheng is going to be a key leader this fall? I imagine Schmiedeler will be instrumental in that department.

KS: Yeah, Caroline is going to be a huge leader who leads by example and looks like she’s just so fun to play with out there. She motivates people by working really hard, by always getting her job done and by being super aggressive—she’s just a really natural leader.

And then we also have Christine Schmiedeler on the right side, (senior outside hitter) Haley Kilday who is a firecracker, high-energy player who gets people excited out on the court, Meredith Pearl returning in the middle leading the blocks and (libero) Taeko Chase who will lead the back row. So we have really strong players returning, and we have really strong players ready to fill the spots we did graduate.

Fairview will have to replace the presence of libero Cree Lawrence in the back row.

KN: And coach, how do you prevent the pressure and expectations from not getting to this year’s group? Like you said, you’ve got a good core group back from the program’s first-ever Front Range League title and 5A championship game appearance, so how do you not get too caught up with the goal of winning a state title this time around?

KS: It’s definitely going to be a balance we’re going to have to master—we need to come out and play like we know we’re capable of, but also not be too hard on ourselves. And we also have to understand we do have a target on our back, but if we stay focused, play our style and play as a team, good things will happen.

Last season definitely wasn’t perfect—we made it really far and had an amazing finish, but there were ups and downs getting there. So for us to understand that we’re not going to be perfect at all times and we don’t need to be in order to achieve our goals is crucial; we just need to work hard no matter what and learn from the things last year that would have made our path a little easier. We definitely made it a long and hard path.

KN: In looking at your schedule from last season, your team lost four of the first seven matches before running the table to a 22-7 mark and the Front Range League championship. What’s it going to take this season to come out and be meshing from the very first match?

KS: In the beginning of last year, there was a brief period where we were figuring out what kind of team we were going to be and how we were going to play together. The girls were also getting used to my coaching style, so I think we’ll be able to hit the ground running this fall because we know what we’re doing and we know what we’re capable of… Last season a bunch of our losses were close matches that we could have pulled out, so this season we will head into those contests with more knowledge about what it’s going to take to win those types of matches.

Haley Kilday & the Knights return lots of firepower from the 2015 title match showing, where FHS lost to Cherokee Trail.

For more on Colorado 5A volleyball, check out our conversation with new Grandview coach Rob Graham