COLORADO SPRINGS — Bethany Cullity let all the emotion out on her final kill of the game.
After falling in the first set, her Cheyenne Mountain Indians were able to find their groove and knock off Chaparral 3-1 (19-25, 25-20, 25-22, 29-27) in a battle of top 10-ranked teams in Class 5A and 4A.
But that was far from Cullity's mind. She could only think of Celeste James, her best friend. James was going to be playing volleyball at Cherokee Trail this season, but passed away last week.
Tuesday's game was the first time on the court for Cullity since it happened. She paced the Indians with 18 kills and after the final one, broke down. She walked off the court with tears running down her cheeks.
"It was really important to get this first win," Cullity said. "We really went out there to win for Celeste and that's what we did."
It was anything but easy. The No. 3-ranked Indians started the match showing some offseason rust and fell into a quick 9-3 hole in the first set. Finding themselves down 24-13, they finally showed some signs of life and rattled off six straight points before the No. 7 Wolverines finally scored to take the first set 25-19.
"Chap might be good enough to get the finals in 5A," Indians coach David Barkley said. "They're that good."
Barkley was able to make some adjustments and the Indians started the second set with much more poise than they did the first. With the game tied 7-7, Elizabeth Wayne helped Cheyenne Mountain go on a 4-0 run, contributing a kill and a block give the Indians a comfortable lead in the set en route to a 25-20 win.
They were able to keep that momentum up in the third set and with the set once again close in score, Cheyenne Mountain made a run to give themselves a cushion. Once they had a 19-14 lead, they were able to hold their pace and take the set 25-22 to get a 2-1 lead on the match.
"They made some great adjustments on their side," Wolverines coach Amanda West said. "They really came out strong in the second set and so we had to make some adjustments to try and fight back too."
Chaparral refused to go quietly in the fourth set. Despite being down 20-16, the Wolverines battled back to take a 24-22 lead. The Indians then went on a 3-0 run to get to match point, which they had three chances at before Cullity ended it with a kill near the sideline.
"She's the best outside hitter in the state that no one knows about," Barkley said after the match.
The loss for Chaparral is the first real test this season for West who took over for T.R. Ellis after last season. She led the Wolverines to a 3-1 win over Arapahoe in her debut, and will see a series of strong opponents from both 4A and 5A this season.
For the Indians, it was important to get a win over a highly touted 5A team to show that they are still a team to contend with in 4A.
"In 4A, there's Ponderosa and that team up north (Lewis-Palmer). I won't say their name, but they're my best friend," Barkley said with a laugh. "I think we can challenge anybody."