Lewis-Palmer feeds off team energy to top Niwot, claim 4A volleyball title

State volleyball

(Kevin Keyser/KeyserImages.com)

DENVER — It wasn't lost on Lewis-Palmer volleyball coach Wade Baxter that his team is a frequent visitor to the Denver Coliseum in November.

He took the time to take in the atmosphere on Thursday, but it's something that he has become used to.

"This isn't a novelty for us," he said.

But he and his girls will never carry that mentality onto the court. The always hungry Rangers beat Niwot 25-11, 25-15, 25-10 to claim their fifth Class 4A state championship in six years. It's the desire to never settle for defeat that has made the team a true volleyball dynasty in Colorado.

"I don't really have to work too hard at that," Baxter said. "The way we scheduled this year with seeing Chaparral twice, seeing Valor Christian twice had them so pumped up. They knew how hard they had to work to play those teams and beat them."

It didn't come without a casualty. The Rangers (28-1 overall) suffered a home loss to Chap. Even if it was the second match of the year for L-P, it was a turning point that triggered a level of dominance that ran all the way through early November.

"They were mad," Baxter said. "They knew they didn't play up to their potential."

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

It looked like a completely different team that took the court in the final match of the year against Niwot. The Cougars (25-4) tried to shut out the intimidation factor and even jumped out to early leads in the first two sets.

But the Rangers had too many weapons. They were strong with hits from Trinity Jackson and Taylor Buckley. They had finesse points from Kessandra Krutsinger. And the ability of Gianna Bartalo to receive the serve and set up the Rangers offense was every bit as important as the sets and the kills that registered the 75 points needed to claim the title.

Bartalo watched as an eighth grader when her older sister Lydia played on the team that lost to Cheyenne Mountain. Even then, it was a heartbreaking feeling that she didn't want to experience as a player.

"It makes us work harder and emphasizes playing as a team," Bartalo said. "That's most important thing in any team effort."

It was that team effort that drove the Rangers through the 4A bracket. Like their coach, they were well aware that it's not a new experience to reach the Coliseum and play for a state championship. Overcoming that mentality is their primary focus before they even step on the court for their first match.

"We can't take it for granted," Jackson said. "That's where our losses will come. (The tournament) is something that we have to look forward to otherwise it will turn into something we don't want it to be."

What it turned into was the eighth overall title for the Rangers, sixth most in state history. It's the second title for Baxter who took over for Susan Odenbaugh following the 2016 championship season.

The continuity of the coaching staff has made each championship connect with each other, but they're still able to stand out on their own.

"It's the same, but it's different," Bartalo said. "They have different coaching styles but it's still so special every single time."

And making it special each time is main factor in making sure the team is hungry for another title the following year.