Even though they lost a ton of talent to graduation, the road to the 3A state championship still goes through Eaton. The Reds are the five-time defending state champions in the class and are at the stage where they reload instead of rebuild. Another crown this November will tie the Reds with Colorado Springs Christian (2004-09) for the most consecutive state titles in volleyball.
Many new faces will have to contribute for Eaton to make a run at tying the state mark. The biggest hole to fill is the graduation of four-year setter Chelsea Lockey. Now at Florida Gulf Coast, Lockey handed out at least 900 assists in three of her four years and finished with a career total of 3,615. Her replacement could be Delaney Oschner who collected 16 assists as a freshman in spot duty.
The biggest strength returning is Makenzie Harris who led the Reds with 475 kills as a junior. This season will mark her third year in the starting lineup but no other returnee posted more than 20 kills a year ago.
#1 Eaton has won 137 of 143 matches since the start of the 2013 season when their championship run began. Three of those losses including two last year came against 4A powerhouse Lewis Palmer and they meet the Rangers on September 22nd again this season. Eaton’s last 3A loss came on September 2013 against Manitou Springs and they avenged the decision by beating the Mustangs in the state final later that season.
#2 Lutheran (25-4) fell to Eaton in the state championship match last year but is again expected to be their top threat. The Lions return top hitters Payton Brgoch (281 kills and Abby Akers (243) who combined for 12 kills in the state final. Kennedey Johnson returns after leading the club with 587 assists and 214 diggs. Another key contributor is Bella Vezzani who led the Lions with 316 diggs as a freshman.
#3 University suffered just three losses to 3A rivals last year and all three came against Eaton including a state semifinal setback. The Bulldogs are expected to battle the likes of fellow top 10 members Valley, Resurrection Christian, Platte Valley and even Sterling for spots 2-6 in the rugged Patriot league. All six teams reached the state tournament last season and all have enough talent for a return.
Offensively, the Bulldogs should be paced by Madlyn Malm who returns after finishing second with 269 kills last year. She’s the only returnee among the top five hitters from 2017 so new players will need to develop around her. Top setter Alexsei Vierya returns after handing out 715 assists last year. Also back are Abby Schaefer (367 diggs) and Morgan Johnson (121).
#4 Faith Christian suffered three of their six losses to Metro league rival Lutheran last year with the third loss coming in the Final Four. The Eagles also survived two other quality losses to Eaton and Resurrection Christian during the season.
Alina Randal returns to the Eagles after leading the club with 247 kills last year. Sophia Keister was third with 148 and also finished second with 365 assists. Allure Padilla led that category with 528 and also placed second with 237 diggs.
Delaney Eckardt is among the top returning players in Colorado and the junior is back to push #5 Valley inside the Patriot. She finished her sophomore season with 411 kills and is easily the number one option for the Vikings. Kenzie Rya (122) and Madison Agripino (113) will also get chances at the net.
A key loss for Valley is the graduation of Hallie Diederich and her team-topping 709 assists. Heather Meining may move to that slot after registering 26 assists last season. She also contributed 347 diggs a year ago.
The Vikings are coming off another state tournament appearance. They beat Buena Vista in four sets but fell short to Faith Christian in three in the pool round.
#6 Centauri and #7 Coal Ridge were among the biggest surprises of last season but both suffered through frustrating home losses in regional tournament play. Centauri entered regionals at 23-0 but fell short to Platte Valley and St Mary’s and failed to make the state tournament. Their 23-wins though surpasses the previous year by 11 games.
Repeating that effort may be difficult as Coach Candace Shaw lost four of the top five hitters and the top two setters to graduation. Isabel Prieto, with 60 kills, is the most experienced hitter returning.
Coal Ridge finished 21-4 including a perfect run through the Western Slope conference (9-0) but a loss to Middle Park in the regional finals cost them a trip to Denver. They could take that final step this season as the Titans return talented sophomore Taylor Wisecamp. She was second on the team with 213 kills last season. Alexa Wisecamp could join her at the net after picking up 84 kills in 2017.
Kenzie Crawford is also important to the Titans success. She led the team with 715 assists and will again direct the offense.
#8 Resurrection Christian has a very good nucleus returning and could push for a top two finish in the Patriot. Back in the Cougars lineup are the top two hitters from last year; Morgan Watson and Kaitlyn Newbanks. They combined for 508 kills last year. Bryce Lieneman finished with 660 assists and she returns for her senior year as well.
Also important to the Cougars is Megan McDaniel who led the team with 279 diggs last year. Another good weapon for Resurrection Christian is the service line where they earned 232 aces including a team-leading 44 from Newbanks.
#9 Lamar and #10 Platte Valley start the season in the top 10 after reaching the state tournament a year ago. They were both in the same pool but neither advanced to the semifinals as each dropped a match to Eaton. Platte Valley beat Lamar (3-1) in the head-to-head meeting.
The Savages will turn to Maddy Williams (185) or Brecken Payne (106) to be their top hitter. Cali Clark led the club with 387 kills as a sophomore but she has transferred to Cherry Creek; mainly for basketball. Williams and Payne were second and fourth in kills a year ago.
Aliceson Fierro anchors the back line and is coming off a season with a team-best 554 assists and 214 diggs (3rd). Jozlyn Stutphin led the Savages with 314 diggs and is a top defender.
Platte Valley reached the state tournament despite a fifth-place finish in the Patriot. They look to move up a few notches as Faith Fetzer (225 kills), Claire Smith (164) and Annika Zenk (161) return after finishing 1-2-3 in hitting. Maddie Uyemura is also back for the Broncos. She led the team in assists (625) and diggs (330). McKenzie Johnson was third with 33 diggs.
Middle Park (10), Bennett (9) and Buena Vista (9) generated the most votes for team that did not crack the top 10 and all three are coming off state tournament seasons. As mentioned, Middle Park won at Coal Ridge in the regional finals but couldn’t carry the momentum to Denver as they came up short to both University and Resurrection Christian.
The Panthers had good depth at the net last year so despite the losses of Bailey Martin (245 kills) and Kylie Barr (244) to graduation, both Sammy Phillips (135) and Morgan Shaw (121). The duo should step into the top two roles rather nicely. The Panthers though are without their top four setters from last year.
Middle Park has won 47 straight matches inside the Frontier league and has suffered only two losses there since 2009. Bennett is hoping to end that streak this year as they’re coming off a first-ever state tournament appearance. The Tigers have holes to fill as they lost over 600 kills with the graduation of Olivia Bonstead and Nakita Swingle. The top returnee up front is Chloe Church.
Getting the ball up front should not be an issue as both Raena Schledwitz (418 assists) and Karissa Alsdorf (360) return at setter. Faythe McKellip will provide solid defense after picking up 306 diggs last year.
Buena Vista improved by eight wins over 2016 and finished with a 21-5 record and an appearance in Denver. The Demons lost to Faith Christian and Valley but took a set from each opponent. Now they look to build some tradition behind the return of Rachel Scott who powered down 186 kills as a freshman. She also led the Demons with 45 aces and was second with 295 diggs.
The Demons will get some early tests this season as they host top 10 opponents Eaton, University and Lamar on August 25th. Each team will square off with the other during the day.
Lindsay Pratt topped Buena Vista with 745 assists as a sophomore and is back with another year of experience. Other contributors should be Caitie Lockett (77 kills) and Corina Barr (231).
Sterling collected five votes in the first poll but the Tigers always seem to be a state tournament threat. They went 1-1 in pool play there last year; beating Bennett in three and losing to Lutheran in four. Colorado Academy and Prospect Ridge also combined for 37 wins from the Metro last year but both lose some quality hitters from teams that reached the regional finals.
NOTES: Eaton has won nine state titles in school history which is tied with Evergreen for fourth most in Colorado history. The state record of 14 is held by Platte Valley and Fowler is next with 13. Merino is third with 10.
The state tournament is quite different this year as CHSAA is moving from pool play to a double elimination tournament to determine state semifinalists. Once the Final Four is set, the event then becomes single elimination. The state tournament also stretches from two to three days with the new format.