MONUMENT — Senior night for Class 4A No. 6 Palmer Ridge started out with some festivities, but once the actual sets began, it wasn't the Bears doing to the bulk of the celebrating.
Despite a bumpy start to its season, No. 2 Lewis-Palmer looked every bit the part of a three-time defending state champion with a 25-14, 23-25, 25-20, 25-17 win over Palmer Ridge, capturing their sixth league win of the season. The Rangers (12-5 overall, 6-0 Pikes Peak Athletic Conference) have not lost a league match since 2015, when they fell 3-1 to eventual state champion Cheyenne Mountain.
“We’ve been driven by defense all year,” said Rangers head coach Wade Baxter. “What we want to do is we want to funnel as much of the other team’s offense to (senior Gianna Bartalo) as we can. We just funnel everything to Gianna so that’s our strength offensively.”
The plan worked and even with this L-P team seemingly depleted from what it has been in years past, it has been difficult for teams to find ways to beat the Rangers.
“We knew they were going to have a good defense,” said Bears head coach Trevor Sullivan. “We tried our best offensively to just put the ball where they weren’t. Credit to them, they were a great defensive team picking up more balls than we thought they would. That’s how we prepped, we prepped to be as aggressively offensively as we could be.”
Lewis-Palmer had full control of the first set, winning 25-14. The Rangers jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead and never looked back. They never trailed at any point during the first set.
“I don’t think we were overwhelmed,” said Sullivan. “We talked about being in control of our minds a lot and we were in control of our minds, but the volleyball skill just wasn’t quite there. I think we did a really good job of regrouping and being calm going into that second set and just taking care of business.”
That skill seemed to even out a bit in the second set. The Bears (11-6, 3-2) battled to a 25-23 win, giving the Rangers just their second dropped set all season in PPAC play.
“They really hurt us in the second set hitting over us,” said Baxter. “Our block was a little bit slow and so we moved the block outside.”
For a team that has a lot less varsity experience than previous years, the Mustangs haven’t missed a beat. They’ve relied on seniors such as Bartalo—who had 35 digs tonight—and Danielle Norman (19 kills), but other players have stepped up as well.
“It’s just a case of everyone stepping up when they need to,” said Baxter. "Dani’s our No. 1 hitter but everybody really contributed tonight. Kaitlynn Bird (13 kills), our other outside hitter, had a great game so I was really pleased with the way she stepped up."
Baxter said that this season hasn’t been as easy as last year was because last year’s team had a really overwhelming offense.
“We don’t have that now so we’re kind of dominating in a sense that we’re 6-0, but every point has been harder fought than they were last year," he said. "There were a lot of quick sets and quick points last year where we’re having to fight and fight and fight and play long points and just lay out everything on the floor defensively more this year than we’ve had to in the past.”