DENVER -- That a new champion would be crowned was the one guarantee going into the Class 4A volleyball state championship match Saturday night at the Denver Coliseum.
With five-time defending state champion Cheyenne Mountain getting knocked out in pool play, the sixth-seeded Air Academy Kadets and top-seed Lewis-Palmer Rangers battled it out for the championship. Lewis-Palmer cruised to a 3-0 in the title match with game scores of 25-11, 25-18 and 25-10.
“I didn’t really care who we saw in the championship game. I just wanted to get there. I think that was a great accomplishment in itself,” Lewis-Palmer coach Susan Odenbaugh said about not getting a third match against Cheyenne Mountain, who the Rangers split with during the season.
It was the fourth volleyball title in the Rangers’ school history, and first since 2002. Lewis-Palmer finished the 2013 season with a 27-2 record. Odenbaugh was in her first year as head coach for the Rangers back in 2002 when Lewis-Palmer won its last championship.
“I’m not walking away for awhile,” Odenbaugh said with a smile about winning her second state title as head coach.
Lewis-Palmer dropped just one game in its four matches during the two-day state tournament. Coronado was able to get a game off the Rangers during pool play. Lewis-Palmer defeated Roosevelt and Elizabeth 3-0 on Saturday to set up the championship match against Air Academy. The two had meet earlier during the season with the Rangers taking a 3-1 victory.
The chemistry was perfect for Lewis-Palmer this season. Junior Alexa Smith, who had 17 kills in the title match, was the center of the Rangers’ offense. Fittingly, Smith’s block ended the match to complete the sweep of Air Academy.
“It’s been amazing having Alexa on our team,” Lewis-Palmer senior Carson Nicodemus said. “She is a great player and has really set the bar for our offense this year.”
With defenses having to focus on Smith, it allowed the likes of senior Haley McCurley, junior Nicole Montgomery, freshman Elizabeth Reich and Nicodemus to have plenty of opportunities to get open offensive situations.
“I think that is the difference from teams past and this present team,” Odenbaugh said. “I’ve got depth and (Smith) isn’t our only weapon. We are just a really solid team.”
Lewis-Palmer never trailed in the first tw0 games. Even when Air Academy got off to a 3-0 lead in Game 3, the Rangers answered with 12 straight points to regain control.
Air Academy was coming off the high of knocking off Cheyenne Mountain 3-2 in pool play action Saturday morning before taking out Ponderosa 3-0 in the semifinals.
“Nobody expected us to get as far as we did,” Air Academy junior Jordan Pingel said. “We were the underdogs. I’m so proud of us. If we had to lose to anyone I wanted it to be LP. They are an incredible team.”
Pingel is actually club teammates with Smith, who has given a verbal commitment to the Purdue University.
“I love (Smith),” Pingel said. “She is a great competitor.”
Air Academy (23-5) will return Pingel and sophomore Ashley Pagan as two key centerpieces next season and will likely challenge for another shot at the school’s first state volleyball title. The championship match Saturday was the first time the Kadets had reached the title game.