COLORADO SPRINGS – At the conclusion of the 2021 girls volleyball state championships, Cheyenne Mountain athletic director Kris Roberts came up with an idea. It happened just a few hundred yards away at a restaurant near the Broadmoor World Arena, the very site of the state tournament.

“What if I moved my volleyball tournament over here,” he pondered.

The Cheyenne Mountain Invite is always played on the last weekend of the regular season and always features some of the top teams in the state. Eaton, Valor Christian, Lewis-Palmer, Grandview and several others always came to play at Cheyenne Mountain.

The World Arena had just showcased a major girls volleyball event and with state slated to return to the Denver Coliseum in 2022, there was an opportunity there.

That opportunity came to life on Friday. The first day of what is now the Colorado Invite – with Discovery Canyon as a co-host – saw several of the top teams in the state convene on seven courts on the floor of the World Arena.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids,” Roberts said. “And it’s an experience that they don’t get somewhere else. It’s great that they play in a similar atmosphere to a state tournament. And they get to play in a huge venue with their high school teams which is a great feeling at this level.”

The Cheyenne Mountain Invite had a reputation for featuring top teams and now the Colorado Invite combines the competition aspect with the chance for those teams to get a dress rehearsal for the state tournament.

They play on a Sport Court floor and with several matches happening simultaneously, it presents a feel that is nearly identical to the feel of the state tournament.

For a team like Thompson Valley who won the state tournament at the World Arena last year, it’s just a comfortable and familiar atmosphere.

“It really is,” Eagles junior Chloe Duzenack said. “We’re playing some really good competition and it felt like déjà vu when we all walked in. It was so cool to see our old court that we won state on.”

The Eagles marched into the semifinals with wins over highly ranked Class 5A teams in Fossil Ridge and Rampart. They’ll play Valor Christian at 2 p.m. on Saturday and if they win that, will play the winner of Grandview and Palmer Ridge in the championship match.

For reference, the defending 5A champion Cherry Creek did not even advance to the semifinals of this tournament. That’s how tough the competition is.

“A lot of these Colorado Springs schools and schools from areas around here have so many good teams,” Duzenack said. “It’s nice to get some good competition against them.”

It has been the best competition the Eagles have seen all year. In fact, they hadn’t dropped a set to anyone until they opened play at the World Arena and beat Fossil Ridge 3-2. Rampart also grabbed a couple of sets but Thompson Valley got a 3-2 win over the Rams as well.

The Eagles could emerge from the weekend as the favorite to win the 4A girls volleyball tournament. That’s because they may survive a talent pool that is perhaps better than any other gathering of teams this year.

And it all came from an idea scratched out on a napkin stained with pizza sauce.