With her family and friends gathering in the Ignacio High School library, Rylie Jefferson stood by the bookcase next to the fresh flower arrangement and shared a quiet moment with her high school coach.
Jefferson silently read a card from head coach Bayli Stillwell. As she glanced up, they locked eyes like only a setter and her coach can.
Minutes later, Jefferson sat down and signed her National Letter of Intent to play volleyball next year at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely surrounded by her proud family and her proud coach.
Its exciting, but then its kind of nerve-racking, too, Jefferson said after realizing a longtime dream of playing college volleyball.
Bayli ... she helped me out a lot, Jefferson said of her high school coach, who doubles as the counselor at Ignacio High School. She helped with contacts ... and my club coach (Durango High School and Colorado Mesa alumna Tessa Andrews) also helped. They helped me refine my skills, and they helped me with the recruiting process.
Through the various contacts, coach Richard Barker at Colorado Northwestern Community College took notice.
An assistant coach on his staff, a recent Colorado Mesa graduate, was familiar with Stillwell and Andrews. Their recommendations and encouraging words from club volleyball sources opened the gymnasium doors in Rangely to Jefferson.
Knowing coach Stillwells background, I brought her (Jefferson) on board. Weve tried to reach out to this corner of the state, said Barker, who added hes followed the progress and development of the Four Corners Volleyball Club under the leadership of former IHS head coach Terene Foutz.
Stillwell is well known in the northwest part of Colorado as a high school volleyball standout at Steamboat Springs. She went on to a star-studded college career at James Madison University.
The club volleyball connection also prompted Barker to sign Amanda Chappell of Montezuma-Cortez, giving him two players from the Four Corners for next season.
Theyve been on our radar for awhile, said Barker, who traveled from Rangely to Ignacio for Jeffersons signing ceremony.
I think Rylie has very good skills, very advanced skills, he said. Were looking to replace a setter.
Barker said Jefferson will face challenges as she competes for setting time next year.
But we like ... her setting skills. And Rylie has a nice block at the net for a smaller setter, Barker said of the former All-San Juan Basin League player.
One trip to the campus and a visit with the Spartans convinced Jefferson.
I went up there one weekend ... got acquainted, saw the campus. I really liked it ... I like the players.
I decided to go, the daughter of Robert and Teena Jefferson said.
Im really excited. The competition will be awesome.
Im really excited for Rylie, Stillwell said. She has worked really hard for this.
Stillwell said during Jeffersons junior year the player started talking about volleyball beyond high school.
She said this might be something shed want to pursue. Then, she worked on it all summer, consistently ... multiple times a week, Stillwell said.
Adding a summer of club volleyball helped immeasurably, Stillwell said.
She got a lot of exposure ... pursuing club this year was a big deal for her, the Ignacio coach said.
I think she has what it takes. She is in for a surprise in terms of stepping up to the next level, but then again every college freshman is in for a surprise, Stillwell said.
Jefferson is Stillwells first Ignacio player to go on to college volleyball something both are well aware of.
For any of our (younger) students who have an aspiration to play in college, they now have someone they can put a face to a name, Stillwell said of the impact of a player such as Jefferson graduating to the college game.
Its like those (students) can say, I remember Rylie, and she did it, Stillwell said. So this is hopeful ... its possible. Its a good message.
Jefferson, for her part, is more than happy to play on.
And she wont forget how she got to Colorado Northwestern Community College.
Baylis always been there for us. She pushes us ... she wants us to be the best we can be, Jefferson said.