Only time will tell if the Oct. 15 volleyball match between Lewis-Palmer and Cheyenne Mountain was a preview of the high school state finals. But if it was, fans can expect to see one heck of a rematch next month at the Denver Coliseum.
For the second consecutive year, Lewis-Palmer (17-1, 7-0 in the Class 4A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference) defeated its rivals from the south in a hotly contested match. The Rangers won the latest affair in five grueling sets, 25-15, 22-25, 25-23, 22-25, 16-14.
This Rangers' victory was especially sweet. It clinched their second consecutive PPAC title. It also marked the first time Cheyenne Mountain (15-2, 6-1) had lost a home league match in the 10 years since David Barkley has been coach of the Indians.
“Regardless of classification, these are the two best teams in the state right now,” Barkley said. “Tonight was tremendous.
“I know that if we play them in the finals it will be a great match. We hope we get there, but we have a long way to go before we do that. There are some really good teams out there.”
Lewis-Palmer is hoping to avoid last year's scenario when the two clubs met in the state finals. That heated match resulted in a Cheyenne Mountain victory in four games; the Indians' fifth-consecutive state championship.
“We're not even looking at the state finals,” said Lewis-Palmer coach Susan Odenbaugh. “There are still a lot of really great teams.
“It was nice to fight and get this win, but there are still a lot of things we need to work on and try to perfect to get to that state final game. Our focus again is to get better every single match. If we can do that, hopefully we'll get there.”
Odenbaugh stressed that her club needs to work on consistent serve receive, stronger block, and the defense needs to be more consistent.
While Odenbaugh might be playing down a possible state finals rematch with Cheyenne Mountain, at least one local coach believes the two clubs are on a collision course for an epic battle.
“It wouldn't surprise me if those two teams were playing in the state finals,” said former Lewis-Palmer coach and current Coronado coach Don Lash. “I think both of those teams are very good.”
Lash knows a thing or two about both clubs. He's faced them on a regular basis over the years during the regular season and playoffs. On Sept. 14 of this year, Lewis-Palmer defeated Coronado in four sets. Coronado plays at Cheyenne Mountain on Oct. 23.
“They don't' rebuild at Cheyenne Mountain,” Lash said. “They reload.”
Only time will tell if Lewis-Palmer and Cheyenne Mountain meet in the state tournament. But Round 2 might take place this weekend as the Rangers travel back to the prestigious Broadmoor area for the Cheyenne Mountain Tournament. The finals of that tournament are set for Saturday evening.
On Sunday, the Colorado High School Activities Association will announce regional pairings.
“We're hungry to play (Lewis-Palmer) again,” said Cheyenne Mountain senior outside hitter Maddie Beal, who had a team-high 16 kills against the Rangers. “Lewis-Palmer is a very good team. We all hope we get to play them again so we can battle it out again.”
The best player on the court when the two clubs get together is Lewis-Palmer junior outside hitter Alexa Smith. She came up with a game-high 28 kills, including the game-winner in the fifth set.
But Smith is not looking at a rematch with Cheyenne Mountain just yet.
“We're still just going game by game and trying to get better,” said Smith, who also added a game-high 14 digs against Cheyenne Mountain. “We have to communicate more on the court and have a better serve receive.”
Smith was among the many Rangers who carried the PPAC championship trophy around the Cheyenne Mountain gymnasium following her team's emotional victory. Senior setter Abi Bartalo also got to handle the hardware.
“We need to work on our fundamentals more,” said Bartalo, who had a game-high 27 assists against Cheyenne Mountain. “We're doing great already. We just need to fine tune everything so we're ready to go.”
Lewis-Palmer's only loss this season was to Doherty in five sets on Sept. 19. Doherty defeated Cheyenne Mountain in straight sets on Sept. 27. The Spartans are the defending 5A state champion.
“We need to be more consistent in our positioning,” Barkley said. “L-P caught us flat-footed a few times.”
Lewis-Palmer added several key transfers over the off season to its already strong team; senior outside hitter Haley McCurley, sophomore setter Mariah Evans and sophomore libero Emily McCurley. All three girls had to sit out the first 11 games of the season due to the CHSAA transfer rule.
“We work hard in practice and we work hard in games and we're just really focused,” said Haley McCurley, who had 18 kills and 11 digs against Cheyenne Mountain. “Playing volleyball with these girls is incredible. They're awesome.”
Odenbaugh added that getting the whole team to mesh is a work in progress.
“We've only played four or five games with this lineup,” Odenbaugh said. “We're still not we're we need to be. If you don't communicate everything will break down. If we do communicate the level of play will go from here to here.”