The talk all season was about the potential rematch: defending champion Akron against runner-up Lutheran in the 2A girls title game.
And heading into the last week's Great Eight, the dream matchup looked likely and even more enticing as both teams brought perfect records to Pueblo before winning their quarterfinal games handily.
But Yuma threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings with a 48-43 victory over Lutheran in Friday's semifinals before falling to Akron 53-36 in the final. The Lions, who opened with a 61-44 victory over Simla, went on to beat Peyton 69-31 to bring home the third-place trophy, but were still stinging from the loss to the sixth-seeded Indians and a chance for redemption.
It wasn't just losing to Yuma that hurt, but the manner of it. Lutheran led 34-25 after the third quarter but fell victim to Indians star Kiera Mekelburg, who scored 13 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter.
“Sometimes you have to acknowledge another team's standout player stepping up,'' said Lutheran coach Mark Duitsman. “Certainly we wanted another shot at Akron. We gave it every opportunity and our best shot.''
Duitsman said the Lions tried to ignore speculation of a rematch with Akron at state, and he believed Yuma — which lost twice to Akron in the regular season — would be a contender as well despite its No. 6 seeding. “We didn't even talk about Akron,'' he said. “We knew the state championship would go through both of those teams.
“We can walk away knowing we are one of the best teams in the state. The ball just didn't bounce our way during the last two minutes.''
Duitsman called his team — which included four members of last fall's unbeaten state-championship volleyball team — “a pretty special group.''
“The hardest part isn't that we didn't win it all but that the ride has come to an end,'' he added.
Lutheran played much of the Yuma game without senior Kassidy Kyle. The team's second-leading scorer was under the weather and finished with just four points. “We're so balanced, but when you lose one it'll definitely have an impact against a good team like Yuma,'' Duitsman said.
Kyle felt better in Saturday's third-place game and led the Lions with 19 points, her tournament high. Sophomore Chandler Sturms had 15 points against Peyton and led Lutheran scorers against Yuma with 15. Senior point guard Jennifer Vigil had a standout tournament, scoring 20, 14 and 11.
“Jennifer established herself as one of the top guards in the state,'' Duitsman said. “She was just phenomenal all season. I don't know if (her status) is a surprise, but it was made clear.''
Sturms, junior Jessica Farra and freshman Kristen Vigil will be the primary mainstays from the 2013 team returning next year. In addition to Jennifer Vigil and Kyle, Lutheran loses Whitney Demmering among their top scorers. Sturms and Demmering were key members of the volleyball team.
“We'll have to do some rebuilding, but I'm real excited about the culture that's been formed,'' Duitsman said.