DENVER — Sterling won a dream matchup over Lutheran to capture the Class 3A state volleyball championship Saturday night at the Denver Coliseum.
The Tigers overcame a setback in game one and roared to victories in the final three games (22-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-23) to wrestle the crown away from Lutheran, the 2018 state champs.
Both teams were a perfect 28-0 on the season. Both were 10-0 en route to winning league championships, going 30-2 in sets.
Prior to Saturday night’s match, Sterling held a 76-7 edge over its opponents in sets, while Lutheran was 74-10.
Even their team nicknames are similar: Lutheran Lions and Sterling Tigers.
But Sterling ran off the court with the trophy by taking small steps and believing in their head coach, Lisa Schumacher.
“The entire season we talked about not focusing on the outcome, but rather focusing on the process, she explained. “What do we have to do, step-by-step-by-step, to reach our goals?”
For Sterling, it marked the second state volleyball championship in school history. The Tigers won a 4A crown in 2005.
Things looked bleak for Sterling midway through the second set when it found itself trailing 16-6.
But sophomore outside hitter Kaylee Johnson keyed a comeback by Sterling, smashing five kills during a 19-7 run as the Tigers won the set and tied the match.
From there, Sterling made enough plays on offense and seemingly had answers for Lutheran’s high-powered offense.
And when Valarie Allen’s attack went off the Lutheran block and out of bounds on match point, the celebration began for the Tigers.
“It feels so good!” said Johnson. “We found ourselves in a hole after the first set. But we didn’t let ourselves get too down, and in the next three sets we continued to fight.”
“Every time, they never looked to the end,” Schumacher added. “Even when we were down four points, they were going: ‘one more point, three more points.’ Our goal this year was to focus on the process. Step-by-step, you can attain anything.
“But the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
The last meeting between the two teams was a little more than two years ago, when Lutheran handed Sterling a 3-1 loss at the state tournament.
“Lutheran is a big powerhouse; they’re very good,” Schumacher said. “We respect our opponents … every opponent we had this weekend. But it’s always fun when you can beat a great team.”
Before Saturday night, the Lions had won 33 matches in a row going back to last year.
Lutheran’s last loss was Nov. 8, 2018, to Eaton on the first day of the state tournament.
As she watched her players hug and scream and call out to their families and friends in the stands after the win, Schumacher processed a giant smile.
“I have been blessed … I have been very blessed,” she revealed. “Every step of the way.”