After playing in Taylor Sturms' shadow for three years, Laura Beach became the face of Lutheran volleyball in 2012. And like Sturms, Beach shined under the spotlight.
Sturms and Beach combined to lead Lutheran to the 2011 Class 2A state championship, the Lions closing the first season following the consolidation of Denver Lutheran and Lutheran Parker with a 13-match winning streak. And while both were named Class 2A Frist Team by the Denver Post, it was Sturms, a senior, who garnered player-of-the-year honors.
But with Beach taking over in 2012, the Lions not only repeated as state champions, they attained perfection with a 28-0 record, capped by a 3-1 victory over previously unbeaten Simla in the 2A title match. Lutheran displayed excellent balance, but Beach's leadership and superb all-around play stood out to make the 6-1 senior middle blocker the inaugural Colorado Community Media Player of the Year. The University of Wyoming signee also succeeded Sturms as the Denver Post's 2A Player of the Year.
“I'm grateful and I want to say thank you to all my coaches and teammates,'' Beach said. “All glory goes to God because he's the one who has given me my abilities.''
Lutheran coach Alicia Oates said Beach is deserving of the honor, noting “Laura's ability to terminate a play is the best of any athlete that I've seen.''
But Oates added that Beach's immense physical talents are not necessarily what made her special.
“Laura was a team-first player,'' Oates said. “She always did what she thought would make the team better.''
A tri-captain with seniors Sturms and Taylor Gager in 2011, Beach earned a role of greater leadership as a senior co-captain with Jordyn Sturms, and that quality was never more evident than in the state-championship match. After a split of the first two sets, Lutheran starters Whitney Dettmering and Connie Olson suffered injuries when the collided in the third set. Both players eventually returned to the court, but Oates said Beach noticed the Lions were shaken up by the incident and that “she immediately took control and calmed the team. Her confidence and composure allowed us to regroup and go on to win the set and the match.''
“I had to do that because I was the captain,'' Beach said. “We came into the huddle and said a prayer for the girls who were hurt. We (Beach and Sturms) said this could help us focus and that we had to get it done.''
Beach made sure it was a fait accompli. She had 25 of the Lions' 58 kills and half of their 12 blocks against Simla. “It was a good (match for me) but it wasn't our best as a team,'' said Beach, who had 61 kills in four matches at state.
“I think I improved from a leadership aspect,'' Beach said. “This year because I was a senior I had to learn to lead and interact with our players.”
Assuming a larger leadership role wasn't the only adjustment Beach was asked to make for her senior season. Mainly a front-line offensive player during her first three years at Lutheran, Beach was asked by Oates to further exploit her athleticism by expanding her game in 2012. Beach, who signed with Wyoming in November, had never played in the back row except to serve. But in 2012 she played three rotations up front and three in the back.
“(Oates) knew I was going to play for Wyoming and they had talked a little bit about me playing in the back row,'' Beach said. “And I think she felt it would help our team as well.''
“Skill-wise, I improved my passing and defense this year because I had to do it,'' added Beach, who went from 69 digs (sixth on the team) as a junior to 206 (third). “Now I feel more confident in my skills. I used to get stressed out having to dig or go outside.''
Beach hardly ignored her offense; in fact her kill and attack percentages jumped from already-excellent marks of .455 and .357 in 2011 to .520 and .429. Including Beach, Lutheran's team percentages were .398 and .275.
And, said, Oates, “She turned out to be one of our premier passers.''
“She's extremely quick and sees the floor very well,'' Oates added. “She has an extremely fast arm and she jumps very well. At times, I probably didn't use her as much as I would have liked. But we had balance so teams couldn't cheat on her.''
Beach, whose family lives in Lakewood not far from the old Denver Lutheran, opted to make the 45-minute commute to Parker when the two schools merged in 2011. Beach said she and her family looked into other options closer to home, `'but my heart was with Lutheran High.''
Taylor Sturms, Jordyn Sturms, Ali Kjergaard and Taylor Gager (a 2011 senior and key member of the first championship team) were among the players who joined Beach at the Parker campus, along with Oates as the coach. They blended in well with returning Lutheran Parker players including 2012 seniors Olson, Dettmering, Michelle Cattau and Ally Kvachkoff, winning two state titles while going 53-4 and winning their last 41 matches.
Beach developed the same loyalty toward the Wyoming program during her recruitment and, citing strong coaching and team dynamics, committed to the Cowgirls last spring, turning down offers from three schools in Connecticut (U-Conn, Fairfield and Sacred Heart) as well as Colorado State and Denver.
Colorado Community Media All-Star volleyball team 2012
Laura Beach, Lutheran, Sr.
Jamie Bredhal, Legend, Sr.
Kristin Conor, Highlands Ranch, Sr.
Kate Gibson, Valor Christian, Jr.
Hannah Ikeler, Green Mountain, Sr.
Lauren Marr, Cherry Creek, Sr.
Abby Shelton, Chaparral, Sr.
Alexa Smith, Lewis-Palmer, So.
Morgan Stanley, Chaparral, Sr.
Maggie Steward, Lakewood, Sr.
Player of the Year - Laura Beach, Lutheran
Coach of the Year - Lou Krauss, Highlands Ranch
Marilyn Alexander, Simla, Sr.; Kelly Allen, Middle Park, Sr.; Courtney Batusiak, Heritage, Sr.; Kayhla Blosser, Wheat Ridge, Sr.; Alexis Boutin, Legend, Sr.; Mattison DeGarmo, Douglas County, So.; Alyssa Didier, ThunderRidge, Sr.; Aima Echie, Rock Canyon, Sr.; Sarah Ellis, Chaparral, Sr.; Claire Felix, Lewis-Palmer, Sr.; Deliah Ferguson, Wheat Ridge, So.; Logan Franek, Elbert, Sr.; Kelsey Gabler, Thornton, So.; Jessica George, Simla, Sr.; Danielle Giannini, Bear Creek, Sr.; Brooke Haskins, Valor Christian, Jr.; Amanda Herold, Cherry Creek, Sr.; Ryan Hoerdemann, Arapahoe, Sr.; Blayke Hranicka, Holy Family, So.; Mikalah Hughes, Mountain Vista, Jr.; Raegen Jackson, Lakewood, So.; Nikki Kennedy, Legend, Jr.; Jace Kleffner D'Evelyn, So.; Micayla Lansing, Bear Creek, Sr.; Madison Laufenberg, Castle View, So.; Micayla Lansing, Bear Creek, Sr.; Kendall Maccagnan, D'Evelyn, Sr.; Jennifer Martinez, Bear Creek, Sr.; Lexi Mercier, Arapahoe, Sr.; Hannah Merkle, Cherry Creek, Sr.; Ali Miller, Heritage, Jr.; Kenzi Mitchell, Simla, Sr.; Mickey Moss, Lewis-Palmer, Sr.; Tylynn Nelson, Holy Family, Jr.; Connie Olson, Lutheran, Jr.; Jen Pakleser, D'Evelyn, Sr.; Sophia Proano, Community Christian, Sr.; Dani Potter, Green Mountain, So.; Katie Pyles, Heritage, Sr.; Erika Roach, ThunderRidge, Jr.; Sydney Schaap, Green Mountain, Jr.; Team Schnurr, Standley Lake, Sr.; Shayli Siegfried, Highlands Ranch, So.; Jordyn Sturms, Lutheran, Sr.; Cat Svendson, Lewis-Palmer, Sr.; Rachel Szczepanski, Highlands Ranch, Sr.; Maddie Thorpe, Chaparral, Sr.; Carinne Turner, Mountain Vista, Jr.; Maggie Veers, Golden, Sr.; Gillian Wahleither, Mountain Vista, Jr.; Dani Wingard, Ralston Valley, Sr.; Cassidy Wurth, Valor Christian, So.; Marie Zimmerman, Lakewood, Sr.