HIGHLANDS RANCH -- Cherokee Trail and Highlands Ranch both qualified for the Class 5A volleyball state tournament in 2012. In 2013, only one could get the berth.
And, after things were settled at Saturday's regional, it was No. 14-seeded Cherokee Trail which punched its return ticket. The Cougars captured Region 11 following wins over No. 11 Highlands Ranch and No. 26 Denver East.
After Highlands Ranch and Cherokee Trail each beat Denver East, it set up a winner-goes-to-state showdown between the two teams. Cherokee Trail coach Terry Miller knew the matchup would test his squad.
"I told my team, 'You’re going to win this tournament if you play together. There's not going to be any chirping at each other, or pointing fingers. You make mistakes and move on. You play together no matter what, and celebrate more for someone else if they make a play than if you make one,'" Miller said.
Highlands Ranch tested Cherokee Trail, taking the Cougars to four sets. But the Cougars pulled out a 3-1 (25-22, 25-18,20-25, 28-26) win.
Senior libero, and captain, Nikki Berta had a phenomenal game defensively. Her digs played a large part in Cherokee Trail’s win.
“It was crazy,” Berta said. “I just wanted our team to come together, and I really wanted us to work together and have fun. That’s when we started to rack up the points -- when we started to have fun.”
Whenever Cherokee Trail scored a point in the fourth set, Highlands Ranch had an answer.
“I told my team that this could be our last chance on the court together,” Berta said. “I also said, 'Put all your heart into it, put it all on the line and win.'”
Cherokee Trail is now 15-8 this season (4-3 league).
“We’ve been fighting this whole season long staying focused and together as a team, and ultimately I wanted them to stay as a team to win this tournament,” Miller said. “Last season, we made it (to the state tournament) on heart. That team was much more cohesive as the season ended.
"These girls came together today. It’s been a roller coaster all season long, and I’m proud of them.”
Lat season, Cherokee Trail made it to state as a six-seed. Despite their stellar play in regionals, that team failed to win a game in pool-play.
“The great thing is that this is virtually the same team as last year," Miller said. "When you get to that Coliseum floor, you know what it’s like. Now it’s not going to be a shock. Our goal (is) to at least win a match, if not go further. Our league has prepared us for this. The Centennial League is an absolute buzzsaw league.”
Other 5A qualifiers were No.1 Grandview, No. 2 Arapahoe, No. 3 Fossil Ridge, No. 5 Mountain Vista, No. 6 Cherry Creek, No. 7 Eaglecrest, No. 8 Doherty, No. 9 Rampart, No. Fruita Monument, No. 12 Pine Creek and No. 21 Castle View. The tournament is Nov. 8-9 at the Denver Coliseum.
In 4A, No. 1 Lewis-Palmer, No. 2 Longmont, No. 3 Cheyenne Mountain, No. 4 Thomas Jefferson, No. 6 Montrose, No. 7 Air Academy, No. 8 Ponderosa, No. 9 Roosevelt, No. 11 Elizabeth, No. 12 Valor Christian, No. 15 Pueblo West and No. 20 Coronado. For Thomas Jefferson, it is the first trip to the state tournament a Denver city school has made since 1984.
Those qualifying from 3A included No. 1 Eaton, No. 2 Valley, No. 3 Manitou Springs, No. 4 Platte Valley, No. 5 Holy Family, No. 6 Gunnison, No. 7 University, No. 8 Bayfield, No. 9 Coal Ridge, No. 10 Bishop Machebeuf, No. 11 Sterling and No. 12 Lamar.
At the 2A regionals, Fowler, Resurrection Christian, Paonia, Lutheran, Sangre de Cristo, Yuma, Meeker and Colorado Springs School advanced to state.
In 1A, Vail Christian, Kit Carson, Otis, Dove Creek, Eads, Idalia and Fleming are moving on.