LAKEWOOD - After a tough day of competition filled with high-flying offenses and gritty defenses, it was the Lakewood Tigers that gained victories over Arapahoe and Douglas County to win Region 9 and a berth to the state volleyball tournament.
With the new volleyball postseason format, only one team from each region can qualify for state, as opposed to two teams in the past. This forced each match to a must-win scenario.
Region host Lakewood (18-7) began its quest for another trip to state against Douglas County (11-14). In their first regional appearance, Douglas County came out fighting.
After falling behind multiple times, the Huskies clawed their way back, even tying the first set up at 24-24. Though the heart of the young Douglas County team was evident, it was the experience of the Tigers that eventually won the set and the match 26-24, 25-10, 25-17.
“Just to make it into regionals this year was a really big deal for them,” Huskies coach Valerie Elliott said. “I think next year we are going to be even better, because we are going to build on this season.”
After a brief break, Douglas County took the floor against Arapahoe (16-9). Though Douglas County sophomore outside hitter Mattison DeGarmo came out swinging tough, the Warriors made few mistakes to decisively win the match 25-14, 25-15, 25-16.
As postseason play goes, it was win or go home for Lakewood and Arapahoe with the final match of the day deciding who would advance.
Last season, Arapahoe defeated Lakewood on the first day of the regional tournament. On day two, it was the Tigers that turned things around and eventually won the region as the Warriors left with disappointment.
Though the loss against the Warriors last year turned the Tigers’ postseason around, the team knew this year they had to come out strong against the big Arapahoe offense.
“We definitely had unfinished business from last year,” Lakewood senior Maggie Steward said. “We really wanted to act on that.”
The highly anticipated matchup was not a disappointment to the rambunctious fans in the stands. With both teams providing highlight reels of powerful attacks, the teams kept fighting for the important first-set win.
Lakewood seemed to take control with a 22-17 lead, but Arapahoe shot right back to bring it to 22-20. Lakewood then took a 24-21 lead, but the Warriors again fought back to 24-23. A hitting error by Arapahoe gave Lakewood the victory.
With confidence on their side, Marie Zimmerman, Steward and the Tigers again got the best of the Warriors with a 25-22 set-two win.
Despite strong attacks coming from Whitney Krantz and Ryan Hoerdmann, the Lakewood defense made remarkable plays to keep the Warriors at bay.
“We just got really gutsy in our defense,” Tigers coach Liz Armbrustmacher said. “Defense is about being in the right spot and having a good system, but when it comes right down to it defense is really about who has the most guts.”
Facing elimination, Arapahoe players fought to keep their season alive. With leads at 10-4 and 13-6, Arapahoe seemed to find its rhythm. After holding off a few surges by Lakewood, the Warriors eventually won 25-21 to extend the match.
Eager to respond, Lakewood saw stronger serves and incredible defensive plays to take the momentum back from the Warriors. When all was said and done, it was the Tigers that took the final set 25-17 and the 3-1 match victory.
“Right now we are pretty bummed because our season is over, but we left it out on the court,” Warriors coach Cara Syers said. “We didn’t hold anything back. It was a good battle. Lakewood is a good team, and it just went their way today.”
Along with the region title, Lakewood earned a trip to the state tournament for the second consecutive season and third time in five years.
“I’m just so excited,” Steward said. “I’m really proud of my team for how far we’ve come. It’s been a great season, and I hope to continue it and have another great week.”
After an epic five-set loss against Grandview in the semi-finals of last year’s tournament, Lakewood hopes again to make a mark a state.
“We are just going to train as hard as we can this week and go out with no regrets,” Steward said.
The state volleyball tournament will be held on Nov. 9 and 10 at the Denver Coliseum.