DENVER – Sitting in the hotel lobby Friday night, Castle View coach Scott Dowis had his moments of doubt.
The Sabercats had been upset by Rock Canyon in Class 5A state tournament pool play, and Dowis wasn’t sure his team would even get to play Saturday. The team returned to the Denver Coliseum on Saturday morning to watch events play out, and that’s when fortune turned in the team’s favor.
“When Coronado beat Rock Canyon and gave us that opportunity, I think the girls felt resurrected,” Dowis said. “No one was really optimistic we were going to play today, and once we got that opportunity, they just took advantage of it.”
Castle View defeated Rock Canyon in a tiebreaker, then held off defending state champion Fossil Ridge in a five-set thriller in the semifinals. That set up a showdown with Cherry Creek in the 5A title game, where the Sabercats survived a furious comeback for a 25-21, 25-18, 17-25, 17-25, 15-13 victory and the program’s first state championship.
“It was the most stressful day I’ve ever had but it was super-exciting. I’m super-proud of my entire team,” said senior Holly Schmidt, who finished with 18 kills. “We didn’t think we were going to play this morning. We came and we were watching the Rock Canyon-Coronado game. We got a second chance and we had to take advantage of it.”
Cherry Creek (26-3) entered the tournament as the No. 12 seed but upset No. 1 Mountain Vista and No. 8 Rocky Mountain in pool play. The Bruins then swept past Continental League champion Chaparral in straight sets in the semifinals to reach their first state championship game since 2008.
“Creek has been playing the best volleyball at the end of the year,” Dowis said. “Better than anyone else. I wasn’t really surprised that they got to the final.”
Castle View (24-5) took the first two sets with little trouble, not allowing Cherry Creek to ever take the lead. Senior Laney Hershiser closed out both sets with kills, and Castle View seemed primed to walk away with it.
But Dowis said he never expected it to be that simple. The Bruins bounced back, utilizing their block and some timely hitting from seniors Erin Markham, Santana Monroe and Peyton Fehringer, along with junior Katie Sherman and sophomore Katherine Von Kraut. Sherman put away the third set with a kill, and Creek dominated the fourth set to knot things up.
“They’re a great team. Sally (Moos) is a hall-of-fame coach,” Dowis said. “It’s an honor just to coach against her. I knew she would have them ready to come back.”
Castle View senior Katie Menz helped turn the momentum in the fifth set with three kills and an ace as the Sabercats jumped out 5-2. The team had match point at 14-9, but the Bruins rallied with four consecutive points.
Dowis called timeout at 14-11 just to let his team know how proud he was of them.
“He told us how much he loved us and how far we’d come,” Schmidt said. “He knew we were going to win.”
Schmidt had four kills and a block down the stretch and the Sabercats finally were able to exhale after a return from Cherry Creek went into the net.
The Sabercats were aggressive on the outside all night, led by Menz and Schmidt, who played junior varsity a year ago.
“This tournament, especially today, she elevated her game so much,” Dowis said. “I’m so proud of that girl. She really has turned into a fantastic volleyball player. A kid who was playing JV last year, now maybe our MVP in this final match – it’s pretty awesome.”
Markham had 11 kills for the Bruins, who will graduate nine seniors.