Five state volleyball champions were crowned on Saturday night and congratulations go to Fleming, Denver Christian, Sterling, Lewis Palmer and Chaparral as they all celebrated titles. We look back at the three-day event and provide some thoughts on what we witnessed.
It was the second year for the double-elimination format and by all accounts, the new layout is a success. Intensity and competition level has increased as every match over the three-day event “means something”. Fans also understand the format much better as it relates to brackets in other sports and there is not a need for a tiebreaker formula at any point of the bracket. We look forward to continuing the format as is. But we would like to see matches continue as each wraps up. This year, tournament officials waited for the scheduled start time to begin play and that caused some “dead space” in Class 5A especially on Thursday and Friday.
A second overall note involves the level of competition. Talked to an individual on Friday that tracks where players head to college and he indicated there were at least 40 individuals in action that had signed or will sign with a Division 1 school. We’ve said for many years that volleyball play in Colorado is at a very high level and that statistic only solidifies that thought. We recommend that every high school sports fan take in the state volleyball tournament at least once as all that talent is located in one location for a tremendous three day event.
Now to thoughts on individual classes:
Fleming continued their excellent run through the division as they beat conference rival Briggsdale for the championship. The Wildcats were in the Final Four for a remarkable 14th consecutive year and the title was their seventh since 2007. That number is the seventh best all-time in Colorado.
The run should continue into next year as the 11-girl roster included six freshman and only one upperclassmen. The entire team is expected back for another title chase in 2020.
The Wildcats suffered one loss during the tournament and it came to La Veta in the second round on Thursday. That match has to be considered the best match in 1A this past week and would rival others in any class. Game five went to the Redskins 15-13. Play was at a high level with few mistakes on either side.
La Veta also reached the state semifinals but their chance at a second consecutive state finals appearance came up short with a loss to Briggsdale in the semi’s.
Even though they fell one match short of the championship, Briggsdale still had a great tournament. There is not a lot of volleyball tradition at the Weld County school but the Falcons are building something nice up north. They will lose a couple of key seniors but there is plenty of young talent returning for next season.
Otis is also worthy of a mention here as the Bulldogs made the biggest splash on Thursday. The last wildcard selected for the tournament field, the Bulldogs swept South Baca in round one and then stunned #2 Kit Carson in three later in the day. If not for a key injury, the Bulldogs may have made another state title run but they fell in their next two matches. Still it was a big and exciting day for Otis on Thursday.
We were not surprised by Denver Christian winning the championship. The Thunder made it to the finals a year ago and returned top players from that club. They were focused the entire year and even though they dropped a few sets during the state tournament, they were clearly the best team in the bracket. The title was the first volleyball crown in school history.
Limon placed second and used their wild tournament experience from a year before to make that run. They are senior dominated as well but there’s good overall sports tradition in Limon so the Badgers will always be a state tournament contender.
We really like what Simla did at state. There is tremendous tradition there but they entered the tournament with little fanfare and not much press. All they did was upset Union Colony Prep on Saturday morning to reach the semifinals before bowing to Limon there. The run was also directed by first year coach Kelly Kocerha who took over from Sue Snyder after last season. It appears she will keep the Cubs as one of the top programs in Class 2A.
Wiggins also continues to build tradition as they appeared in the state semifinals for a second straight year. It was also their third consecutive strong showing. Before this current run, the Tigers won just eight matches in 2016 so Michelle Baker continues to build a solid program there.
Meeker just missed out on a third straight semifinal appearance as they lost to Wiggins in a great match Saturday morning. Wiggins took the tight match 3-1 with Game Four ending up 30-28. Kids on both sides were flying all over the court in that match.
Since both teams were unbeaten going in, it shouldn’t be surprising that the state final between Sterling and Lutheran was played at a high level. Lutheran was the defending state champion and played like one all three days as they took the best effort from all challengers. Sterling though was the slightly better team on Saturday night and came away with the championship for the second time in school history. Number three could easily come in 2020 as most of the Sterling lineup returns for next season and they again will be led by veteran coach Lisa Schumacher who knows how to win.
Think we can all agree that Colorado Springs Christian was the third best team in the field. The Lions suffered their two losses to the state finalists and each match went a full five sets. They fell to Lutheran in a winners’ bracket game on Friday night and then came up short to Sterling in the state semifinals on Saturday afternoon. So overall, the Lions were basically a few points from possibly winning the state title.
Alamosa also made the tournament semifinals as they continue to create a very good program in the San Luis Valley. They entered the 2018 tournament unbeaten overall and won a match and likely used that experience for a deeper run this year. It came to a close with a three set loss to Lutheran in the state semifinals.
Looking down the road, we mentioned Sterling will be a threat to the title again and so will Lamar. The Savages will lose a tremendous senior blocker to graduation but their top hitter and top setter were only freshman this season. If those two stay healthy, don’t be surprised if the Savages are a factor in future title chases.
To steal a boxing phrase, a challenger cannot wait for a split decision; they have to knock out the heavyweight champion to get the title. And that was the story in Class 4A. A couple teams had three-year defending state champion Lewis Palmer on the ropes but couldn’t put them to the canvas.
Lewis Palmer moved past Pueblo West (3-1) and Montrose (3-0) to earn another berth in the state semifinals. Once there, they fell behind Coronado 0-2 before stunning the Cougars with wins in the final three sets.
The state championship match with Palmer Ridge was also tight throughout. Tied at two sets apiece, the Rangers again grabbed the top trophy with a 15-9 decision in the final set of the season.
Lewis Palmer has now won the last four state titles and six of the last seven. It was their ninth crown in school history which ties them with Eaton and Evergreen for fourth all-time. It also marked the 12th straight year the 4A title went to the Rangers or Cheyenne Mountain.
Cheyenne Mountain was again a factor as they raced to the state semifinals before a loss to Palmer Ridge ended their season.
The tournament again also provided evidence that the center of the 4A volleyball universe is in North Colorado Springs. Three of the final four teams were from the same conference (Pikes Peak) and the fourth (Coronado) also competes in that region.
Even though D’Evelyn didn’t reach the Final Four, the Jags still had a great tournament. Seeded 12th in the 12-team bracket, they made it all the way to Saturday morning before falling to Coronado in five sets. They were basically one set away from reaching the Final Four. Another good win came against Pueblo West (3-2) on Friday.
Pueblo County was the top seed in the bracket but the Hornets made a quick exit. None of the players on the team had competed in the state tournament before and that inexperience showed in losses to Palmer Ridge (3-2) and Cheyenne Mountain (3-1). They had won 24 straight matches going into the tournament.
The big school division often includes several high level teams with a few bounces of a serve off the net or a deflection off a block, but this year it was clear Chaparral was the best team. The Wolverines went 4-0 at the state tournament and dropped a set in three of them; but when they got into rhythm it was clear they had the most talent.
In the tourney opener, Grandview took the opening set then Chaparral rolled 27-25, 25-18 and 25-12. In the finals, Valor Christian led 1-0 before the Wolverines earned the next three sets including a 25-11 decision in set three. Their biggest challenge actually came in the semifinal win over Legend as they Wolverines won two sets 29-27.
Highlands Ranch was probably the biggest surprise of Thursday as they easily took out Broomfield in three sets. The Eagles were the fifth seed in the bracket. The Falcons were then eliminated in their next two matches but that win on Thursday was a highlight for the lowest seed in the tournament.
Rampart and Fort Collins also made strong showings as the Rams and Lambkins made sure there is 5A volleyball outside the Continental and Centennial leagues. Fort Collins made it to the semifinals without a loss including a nice win over Legend (3-1). Their run ended in the semi’s against Valor (3-0). Rampart made it to Saturday morning and missed the semifinals when they also lost to Valor Christian (3-2).