Lutheran was the top-seeded team in the Class 3A state volleyball tournament Nov. 8-10 at the Denver Coliseum, but the Lions had one big hurdle to overcome.
That hurdle was Eaton, the five-time defending champion who was seeded eighth in this season's tourney.
Lutheran cleared the Eaton obstacle and the Lions defeated Colorado Springs Christian, 3-1, to capture the state championship on Nov. 10 to win the school's first 3A crown to add to the 2A titles won in 2011 and 2012.
The Lions overcame Eaton in a tough semifinal match that seemed to make the win over Colorado Springs Christian in the finale seem easy.
Eaton swept Lutheran in three sets in last year's state 3A finals and then the Fightin' Reds overpowered the Lions 3-1 in Lutheran's first match in this year's tournament.
That sent Lutheran into the loser's bracket in the double-elimination crossover, Olympic bracket that made its debut in the state tourney this season.
The Lions responded with a 3-1 win over Faith Christian and 3-0 victories over Valley and Alamosa to claim a spot against Eaton in the semifinals, when a loss would send a team home.
The Lions had to win the fourth set to force a deciding fifth set against Eaton and Lutheran prevailed 21-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-21 and 15-10.
Lutheran (27-2) didn't relax in the state championship match and collected 25-16, 25-20, 14-25 and 25-11 triumphs over Colorado Springs Christian.
“It feels good,” said Lutheran coach Alicia Oates. “We knew going in that Faith and Eaton were going to be difficult, and Eaton had to be dethroned in a sense. We knew Eaton was better than their seed.
“The girls played so hard against Eaton and CSCS didn't roll over and we had to push and the girls did a great job of that. You have a huge win against Eaton and you always worry but these girls knew that they came not just to beat Eaton but to bring home the gold trophy, and after last year kind of stinging a little bit, it was really neat for them to have that opportunity.”
Payton Brgoch, the 6-foot-2 junior middle hitter who led Lutheran in the tournament, said the Lions were focused on beating Eaton in the semifinals.
“We wanted Eaton because we lost the first match,” said Brgoch. “We were so excited to play them again. This group of girls is so close. It's insane. It's been so much fun this season. Last year wasn't fun watching the other team (Eaton) celebrate.”
Brgoch had 29 kills, a 69 percent kills percentage and had nine blocks in the semifinal win over the Reds. Junior Kennedey Johnson, one of 10 underclass players on the Lions' state tournament roster, had 31 assists in the semi against Eaton and sophomore Bella Vezzani contributed 27digs.
Against CSCS in the finals, Brgoch had 12 kills and six blocks. Vezzani had 15 digs and Johnson 20 assists.
In six state tournament matches, Brgoch had 117 kills and 37 blocks, while Vezzani was credited with 109 digs and Johnson had 142 assists.
Parker's other top-seeded team, Chaparral, lost the Class 5A state championship match 3-1 (22-25, 25-21, 18-25 and 25-27) to Valor Christian and finished the season with a 26-3 record.
Chaparral didn't seem to play with the same energy in the finals after a tough semifinal match. The Wolverines lost the first two sets but downed second-seeded Cherokee Trail 27-29, 23-25, 25-12, 25-23, 18-16, and it was a service ace by freshman Katie Dalton that gave the Wolverines the needed 2-point margin in the fifth set to advance to the finals.
“I really thought Valor was low-errored and earned every point, and we were really exhausted by the end of the tournament,” said Wolverines coach Amanda West. “I'm so proud of what the girls accomplished. It was so big and it doesn't feel like it now but it is not easy to do what we did over the season. I'm proud of the team.”
Julianna Dalton, a 6-foot-4 middle hitter, led the Wolverines and her three late kills were a key to winning the third set.
Ponderosa, seeded ninth in the 4A bracket, downed Palmer Ridge 3-0 to open the tournament but was swept by eventual state champion Lewis Palmer, 3-0, in the second round. The Mustangs stayed alive with a 3-1 win over Silver Creek in the loser's bracket but dropped the fifth set 15-1 to Evergreen in a 3-2 loss that sent Ponderosa packing with a 19-10 season record.
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