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David Ramsey: Lewis-Palmer volleyball, and rookie coach, calmly dominating opponents

October 17, 2017 Updated: October 18, 2017 at 6:47 am
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Legend senior Aubrey Johnston (7) defends on a shot from Lewis-Palmer junior Riley Putnicki (10) in the third set. The Lewis-Palmer Rangers defeated the Legend Titans in 3 straight sets in girls' volleyball on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 at Lewis-Palmer High School. Photo by Isaiah J. Downing

Wade Baxter took over a fantastic and horrific job.

He’s the first-year coach of Lewis-Palmer’s girls' volleyball team. The roster is jammed with talent. The program is blessed with a grand recent tradition. Led by coach Susan Odenbaugh, the Rangers seized three of the past four 4A state titles.

And this is where the scary part arrives.

Baxter is expected to win a state title, too. Not sometime in the future.

We’re talking about right now, as in this season.

“I was a little intimidated coming in, following a legend like Susan, but the girls have made it an easy transition for me,” Baxter said Tuesday evening after a breezy 3-0 victory at Sand Creek.

Baxter coached the junior varsity for a decade, and he teaches chemistry and physics at L-P. He was no stranger to the state champs.

The Rangers are, as usual, rolling with an 18-0 record with only three lost games. Of course, this level of dominance is the norm at L-P, which has lost nine games in the past five seasons.

The intimidation factor has eased for Baxter, who is having more fun than he expected.

“That level of perfection was kind of there hanging over my head, but they made it easy for me because they’re an easy team to coach,” Baxter said.

He’s a calm presence on the sideline. On Tuesday, he seldom spoke and barely moved. Odenbaugh, a master coach, pushed her players with a more aggressive verbal style.  

Taylor Buckley, a junior, laughed as she thought back to volleyball life under Odenbaugh’s direction.

“It was definitely different,” Buckley said. “She was more commanding and more strict. It was a little more hectic, a little more wound up.”

At times, Buckley said, the team wishes Baxter would get a bit more emotional. Players tease him about the dangers of holding his emotions in check.

“He’s very calm,” Buckley said. “He never freaks out.”

On Tuesday, the Rangers followed their coach’s peaceful approach. They laughed and hugged and clapped as they eased past (25-4, 25-6, 25-14) the Scorpions, who fell to 4-17.

Sand Creek coach Amy Christian knew it would be a tough night, but she hoped for a stronger performance from her team.

“We mentally let ourselves down,” Christian said. “We put them on a higher pedestal than we should have and when you mentally do that you, physically you don’t perform.”

Still, the Rangers deserve to sit on a pedestal. The danger for L-P players is to allow accomplishments from the past to burden the present.

McKenna Sciacca, a junior, refuses to consider the past as a weight on the Rangers.

“Expectations put a lot of stress on us, but it’s very good stress because it makes us want to play hard almost every game,” Sciacca said.

She paused.

“Not almost every game,” she said. “Every game.”

She treasures the pressure. Good idea. It’s the best approach.

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