For a team that had not been to the Class 2A state volleyball tournament since 2011, Dayspring Christian Academy's undefeated 2016 season – capped by the school's first state championship – seemingly came out of nowhere.
But the reality is, the stars had just not aligned for the Eagles in recent years. Dayspring Christian won at least 16 matches each season during its state drought from 2012-15. But the Eagles were in the same district as Resurrection Christian – the state champions in 2013-14 and runner-up in 2015 – and were matched in a region that included 2015 champion Yuma.
So with an experience core coming back last fall, Dayspring Christian coach Kristin Kurz challenged her players to take the next step.
"What happened is I said we cannot wait for the wild card," Kurz said. "We've got to go out and we’ve got to do it. We had a point-by-point philosophy, where you're constantly fighting for those points just so you can win the set and eventually the match.
"They were hungry … they wanted it. Literally all six of them bought into it and persevered and fought. They had the 'it' factor."
The season culminated with a four-set victory over Yuma in the 2A title game and Player of the Year honors for Katie Kurz.
"We took our past defeats from previous years – my freshman year losing out on the wild card by .01 points – and used them to push ourselves harder the next year," Katie Kurtz said. "We wanted to push hard for the four seniors. We all wanted it for them."
Those four seniors all happened to be in the starting lineup, meaning that Dayspring Christian comes into 2017 with some new faces. Katie Kurz and Megan Roberts, who led the team in kills as juniors, are back, but a lack of height and inexperience will present some challenges to Kristin Kurz early in the season.
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us. Katie and Megan are the backbone; they've been there and they know what to do. They've been starters since their freshman year," the coach said. "They've tasted what it's like to be on top and they want it back. We're trying to get the other four up to the same speed of what needs to be expected."
Kurz had the third-best hitting percentage in the state as a junior at .426 and was seventh in the state – but first in 2A – in kills with 434. She led the team in aces and digs as well, and Roberts’ 329 kills were good for eighth in 2A.
"We're definitely setting the bar high for us this year. We try to set them high, so that way we can push ourselves harder," Katie Kurz said. "We have set the bar high and we tell (our teammates) they can reach it. You can actually achieve what you dream."
With the graduation of middle blockers Makayla Bell and Brogan Launer, the Eagles will have to make some adjustments this season. Roberts returns to her natural position in the middle, but Kurz is also making the transition.
"We lost a lot of height," Katie Kurz said. "We've been working on our blocking drills. … It's tough, but we've just got to keep pushing ourselves."
Setter Kelsi Donoho also graduated, but her younger sister, Talia, played a bit at the position on varsity early in the season as a freshman while Kelsi recovered from injury.
Dayspring Christian took part in a camp at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley over the summer. At one point, Kristin Kurz removed both her daughter and Roberts from the lineup and forced her younger players to sink or swim on their own.
The coach told her players that they were not going to always rely on their seniors.
"'They're not going to carry this team. You carry each other,'" Kristin said of her message that day. "It will be a learning experience, but the good part is the girls that we pulled up were on the team last year. They were on the bench; they were there, they felt that, they're hungry for that. They're willing to do whatever."
Dayspring Christian enters the season ranked No. 1 in the CHSAANow.com preseason poll, followed by Yuma. Lyons and Union Colony Prep, which also fall in District 7 with the Eagles, are ranked third and seventh, respectively.
In 5A, defending champion Fossil Ridge returns a pair of all-state talent in senior Riley Zuhn and junior Catie Semadeni. Rock Canyon, a state semifinalist, brings back outside hitter Keeley Davis. Davis was second in 5A as a junior with 421 kills.
In 4A, Lewis-Palmer captured its third title in four years. The Rangers graduated three first-team all-state players, including MVP Elizabeth Reich. Three of the classification's top five hitters – Silver Creek's Rylee Anderson, Berthoud's Julie Ward and Holy Family's Ali Travis – return.
Four-time defending state champion Eaton returns the classification’s top setter in all-state senior Chelsey Lockey, but the Reds graduated Player of the Year Tarynn Sieg. The top five teams in the 3A preseason poll – Eaton, Valley, University, Sterling and Resurrection Christian – all reside in the Patriot League. Valley has been the 3A runner-up to Eaton in each of the three previous seasons.
Fleming returned to the 1A title game last November and captured its third championship in four seasons. Player of the Year Shaylee Johnson graduated, but the Wildcats return a pair of first-team all-state selections in outside hitter Bailey Chintala and middle Alli Keisel. Kit Carson comes into the season ranked first in the preseason poll, with two all-state players back in Tess Hornung and McKenzie Smith.
- Regular Season Begins: Aug. 24
- Postseason Begins: 2A/1A districts completed by Oct. 28; regionals by Nov. 4
- State Tournaments: All classifications, Nov. 10-11 at Denver Coliseum
Defending state champions
- 5A: Fossil Ridge
- 4A: Lewis-Palmer
- 3A: Eaton
- 2A: Dayspring Christian
- 1A: Kit Carson
Returning All-State players
- First Team: Riley Zuhn, Sr., Fossil Ridge
- Second Team: Keeley Davis, Sr., Rock Canyon; Catie Semadeni, Jr., Fossil Ridge
- First Team: Ali Travis, Jr., Holy Family
- Second Team: Rylee Anderson, Sr., Silver Creek; Mackenzie Fidelak, Sr., Niwot; Brilane Manchego, Sr., Pueblo West; Mckenna Sciacca, Jr., Lewis-Palmer
- First Team: Chelsey Lockey, Sr., Eaton
- Second Team: Bailey Martin, Sr., Middle Park
- First Team: Katie Kurz, Sr., Dayspring Christian; Shaelyn Walton, Sr., Hoehne
- Second Team: Chasey Blach, Jr., Yuma; Jerraldawn Rector, Sr., Simla
- First Team: Bailey Chintala, Sr., Fleming; Tess Hornung, Jr., Kit Carson; Alli Keisel, Sr., Fleming
- Second Team: Kaylee Corsentino, Jr., La Veta; Hannah Kinnison, Soph., Prairie; Anna Sanchini, Sr., Weldon Valley; McKenzie Smith, Jr., Kit Carson