DENVER — Ashley Larson’s wait for the final serve of her prep career seemed to take an eternity, even though it was only a few minutes.
With Valor Christian serving for the match against top-seeded Chaparral in the Class 5A state volleyball championship Saturday night, a bloody nose forced a timeout. As Larson stood waiting to make her serve, the Chaparral faithful just behind her did their best to get inside her head, especially after additional time was needed to clean the floor.
When action finally resumed though, Larson calmly put the ball in play, and a few seconds later Lily Thomason dropped the game-winning kill to give the Eagles the 25-22, 21-25, 25-18, 27-25 victory and the team’s first-ever volleyball title.
“First of all, I was so nervous. I think that’s the most pressured serve I’ve ever had!” Larson said with a laugh. “Kind of what calmed me down was I looked around and saw my team and thought about everything we worked for.
“I tuned out the student section, I could hear my teammates cheering me on, and that just fired me up.”
Valor Christian (27-2) moved up a classification this fall after finishing as the runner-up a year ago to Lewis-Palmer. The team’s only two losses this season came to the Rangers – who captured their fifth 4A crown in six years on Saturday – and the Eagles had rallied to defeat Eaglecrest in five sets in the semifinals earlier in the day.
“This was just the right group,” Valor Christian coach Kaitlyn Hastings said. “They put things together so well from the start of the season with positivity and just loving each other and believing in each other.
“I think this group is the one that earned it and deserved it the most. This senior group is so talented.”
Chaparral (26-3) was the favorite for much of the season, especially after handing Lewis-Palmer its only loss of the fall. The Wolverines had to make a comeback of their own in the semifinals against Cherokee Trail after falling behind two sets, but the team rallied to reach its first championship game since 2011.
It was the matchup that Valor Christian wanted all along, and by coming out and taking the first set, the Eagles proved to themselves that they were up to the challenge in winning the program's first title.
“We wanted them from the start. We’ve wanted to play them all season,” Hastings said. “I think we were game for them. Coming out and showing right away that we can take it helped for sure.”
Chaparral didn’t go away quietly though. After Valor took the first set, the Wolverines went to work behind the play of 6-foot-4 middle blocker Julianna Dalton. The junior was unstoppable late in the second set, finishing things off with three kills in the final four points.
Valor Christian methodically worked its way back in the third set, never allowing Chaparral to establish a rhythm. Maddy Mallory’s block put the Eagles up 2-1.
“We didn’t really come in with any expectations, honestly,” Thomason said. “We just came in knowing that they were a good team. We just gave it all we’ve got.”
The match seemed to be headed toward a decisive fifth set after Chaparral went up 22-18, but the Eagles chipped away to tie it up at 24-24.
The Wolverines held off Valor Christian on the first match point and were even poised to take the set, but a kill from Courtney Lane – who led the team with 15 on the night – knotted things back up at 25-25. Anna Davis – who had a big night with her block – stuffed a kill attempt to make it 26-25, and after the delay, Thomason put things away for good.
“No matter what, however we finish, we’re all just going to be so proud of each other,” Thomason said of her mindset as she went up for the ball. “Just swing to win.”
Chaparral will graduate seven seniors but returns a few key pieces.
Valor Christian loses six seniors, but that group will go out knowing it made history.
“Honestly I think regardless of us being in 4A or 5A, we just go out there and play our game,” Larson said. “We know anyone can win at any time.”