DENVER - After a successful run at the state championships last season, the Lakewood girls volleyball team looked to take this year’s tournament by storm.
Lakewood barely missed out on the title match in 2011, losing a exciting five-set match to Grandview in the semifinals. Returning a majority of the lineup this year, hopes were high that the team could go all the way.
“We still had a lot of our starting lineup from last year,” said junior Sara Fahrenbrook. “We just lost one of our outsides. It was a big loss, but our outsides this year made up for it, easy.”
Though the Tigers knew their shot a state was still strong, other teams seemed to count them out. With the newly adopted MaxPreps Freeman Rankings determining postseason, Lakewood fell to a deep ninth out of 12 teams in the Class 5A tournament.
Despite the low seed, Lakewood was still happy with its schedule to play Mountain Vista and Cherry Creek in pool play.
“I really liked our draw for the pool coming in today,” Tigers coach Liz Armbrustmacher said. “We really felt like we had a chance to make it through to the semifinals, which is pretty good for a team that everybody kind of discounted at the beginning of the year. Nobody thought we would make it this far.”
As the third seed in the pool, Lakewood would have to play both matches on the first day of the tournament, Friday Nov. 9.
Mountain Vista also felt confident about its shot in the tournament, which made it that much more shocking when Lakewood came out in dominating fashion.
Even without libero Camille White, who injured her hand in regional play, the team instantly showed it was a legitimate contender with a 5-2 run to begin the match. The Tigers would continue their dominance through each game, building runs as much as 5-0 and 9-0. The Tigers would quickly earn a 25-20, 25-20, 25-23 victory over a stunned Golden Eagles squad.
“We wanted it really, really bad,” Fahrenbrook said. “We just played our hardest. We came here to play.”
After a quick one-match break, Lakewood faced up against a big Cherry Creek offense. Even with momentum in the Tigers favor, the Bruins had a confidence to be found at a school with a winning tradition.
After fighting tough in the first set, it still wasn’t enough to overcome the powerful Bruins squad. Though Lakewood tried attacks from every angle, the Cherry Creek defense gave up nothing to the normally mighty Tiger offense. The Bruins would then cruise to a 25-22, 25-13, 25-19 victory.
“Cherry Creek really played flawlessly today,” Armbrustmacher said. “They didn’t make an error. It’s hard to beat a team at this level when they are not making errors.”
Even with Cherry Creek producing one of the more commanding performances in the tournament, Fahrenbrook still thinks her team was capable of more in the final match.
“They are a great team. I am not going to take anything from them,” she said. “They have great defense. They have a great outside. We could have put up a better fight.”
On day two of competition, Lakewood saw their chances of advancing to the semifinals fade slowly as Cherry Creek defeated Mountain Vista in four sets to win the pool outright.
Cherry Creek would go on to narrowly lose to nationally ranked Doherty in a tough five-set battle. Doherty then claimed the Class 5A title with a 3-0 trouncing over Grandview.
Despite the team falling short of its goal, the Tigers are proud of the season they put together.
“The girls worked really hard,” Armbrustmacher said. “They believed in themselves. They believed in each other. That’s pretty much all you can want from a team.”
Though the team will graduate star outsides Marie Zimmerman and Maggie Steward, it will also return setter Fahrenbrook and 6-foot-1-inch middles Marie Gillcrist and Raegan Jackson giving the team hope once again to make a run at state.
“Next season I feel like we are going to have a great defensive team,” Fahrenbrook said. “We might be smaller, but we are going to be very hard to beat. Don’t underestimate us.”