DENVER — Much like it had all season, the Valor Christian girls volleyball team set the tone early in the Class 5A state championship match against Rock Canyon.

The top-ranked Eagles built a big advantage through service, hitting and blocking to win the first set 25-12, then parlayed that into a sweep of the No. 3 Jaguars.

“In practice, they bring it on every day on every play, but they do it for each other,” Valor coach Jayne McHugh said. “They love each other deeply and the sweep was going to happen.”

The championship win is Valor’s first since 2018 and its fourth title-match appearance since 2017. The undefeated Eagles dropped only four sets all season and only one during the state tournament.

“It’s every kid’s dream to do this,” McHugh said. “And it’s every coach’s dream to have a group like this.”

Against Rock Canyon, they started with Sasha Cohen’s cross-court spike for the first point of the evening and the Eagles carried that momentum to a 4-0 advantage. Rock Canyon shot back with an ace from, but Valor reobtained service on a hitting there. By the time the first timeout was called, the Eagles led 14-4 and they stretch that to as many as 15 points en route to the first-set win.

Rock Canyon held its first lead of the match with a 2-0 advantage of the second set, but that was quickly erased by Valor. The set was eventually tied 14-14, but the Eagles went on an 11-5 run to close out the 25-19 victory.

By the third set, Rock Canyon once again took an early lead, this time using strong service and attack to go up 9-5. But a service error and a string of vicious kills had Valor leading 15-14 and only 10 points away from a state title. Rock Canyon responded to take a two-point lead, but Valor put it away on kills from Skyla Morgan and Erin McNair, then the final point of the 25-23 win on a Rock Canyon kill attempt that flew wide.

The final point saw Valor players collapse to the floor in a storm of celebration and crying, followed by a celebration with a rowdy Eagles student section. Valor reached the final with sweeps of No. 8 Fossil Ridge and No. 5 Grandview, then a 3-1 victory against No. 4 Rampart.

After they dropped a set against the Rams, McHugh said the nerves disappeared.

“The set we lost earlier in the day, I think it was all nerves,” the coach said. “It just all pressure. I think once we had that under our belt, I was not expecting anything less than we did tonight.”

McNair led the Eagles with nine kills, while Cohen and Grace Langer had eight apiece, and Morgan chipped in seven. Those four players had all but three of the Eagles’ kills. Chloe Elarton and Delaney Russell had three aces apiece.
Defensively, Russell finished with a team-high 17 digs, while Langer and Taylor Bowman each contributed to three blocks.

For Rock Canyon, this marks their first trip to a championship volleyball match. The school was opened in 2003 and relatively young compared to other 5A powerhouses but had battled through adversity prior to reaching the final with wins over No. 6 Chaparral, No. 7 Cherry Creek and No. 5 Grandview.

Between the COVID-shorted season in 2020 and a flood leaving them without a home gym in 2021, Jaguars coach Angela Nylund-Hanson fought back tears as she described the perseverance of her team.

“It’s very, very meaningful for us,” Nylund-Hanson said. “These girls have worked very hard. Coming back into this year with things back to normal, I knew this team has a heart of gold and they worked so incredibly hard to get here.

“They made state last year as the No. 25 seed at regionals, despite not playing a true home game and practicing at a different facility. I knew this was this team’s year and I knew this team — I knew we were going to make it to the finals. I’m extremely proud of them.”