COLORADO SPRINGS — When the 25th and final point was recorded for Discovery Canyon, the gym erupted with happiness.
Thursday, the Thunder will be among those competing at the state volleyball tournament at the Denver Coliseum. They got there via wins over Golden and Frederick in regionals where Discovery Canyon played host.
The Thunder has won 23 of their last 24 matches. The season-opening loss to Erie feels like years ago, but that may have been the single most important match that the Thunder played all year.
“Our first game of the season was a wake-up call," coach Melissa Bravo said. "The group that we have this year is a good returning core from last year who qualified for state and I think they walked in thinking ‘we got this.’ Erie was a great wake-up call for us. It was a good loss.”
Entering the year, Discovery Canyon sat just outside the top-10 in the CHSAANow.com Class 4A volleyball preseason rankings. The loss certainly didn't do much to boost the confidence of the Thunder, but they used it as motivation to work hard every day, every practice and every match.
The result was a staggering 15-match winning streak that boosted them up to No. 2 ahead of their showdown with No. 1 Lewis-Palmer. The defending 4A state champs handed the Thunder their only league loss of the year. It was also be the last loss for Discovery Canyon before running the table the rest of the way to the state tournament.
But the surge and the solid play all started with that first match of the year. That very first loss.
“I think we came out a little too nervous and let the first game pressure get to us," junior Leah Lester said. "I think we needed that loss. It helped us get the momentum going to go on that winning streak.”
Another big reason for that streak is the talent on the floor for the Thunder. Lester is an all-around threat as she sits second on the team in kills, third in service aces and second in digs.
Paytin Kramer has helped supplement the kill count, Sophie Boushell has been brilliant defensively and Hannah Pethtel and her 395 assists have set up multiple players for scoring opportunities.
And then there's the big weapon on the front line. Ashten Prechtel and her 6-foot-5 frame gives Discovery Canyon a big advantage on the hitting side. Prechtel will play basketball at Stanford, but has enjoyed every minute of this season. She entered Saturday ranked 33rd in 4A with 191 kills, but it's getting back to the Denver Coliseum that really mattered to her and her teammates.
“It means a lot especially since basketball is my first sport," Prechtel said. "It’s really fun to come out with my volleyball team and play this well. We all get along really well and we have so much fun on and off the court.”
While they want to have fun this week, they have a clear goal in mind. Only one team state championship resides in a trophy case on the school's campus. That was for boys golf in 2016. The volleyball team would love to head to Denver and win the school's first girls team championship. Just getting back to the tournament isn't enough for Bravo and her girls.
“Absolutely not," she said. "We want to win state. We also know that takes one match at a time. Not looking past anybody, coming out of regionals last year, we know how important that is. But yeah, we want to win state. We’ll take it one match at a time, regardless of who’s across the net.”
Playing in 4A means that it could be Lewis-Palmer on the other end of that net. That doesn't make any difference to Discovery Canyon. They know in order to be the best, they have to beat the best.
If anything, they're excited to get another crack at the team that has won four of the last five championships. Winning regionals was just the start of that process.
“This is just the next step," Lester said. "We plan to see Lewis-Palmer again. We want some redemption and we’re looking for a state title.”
The Thunder, and everyone else, don't have to look further than Thursday for the start of that quest.