4A volleyball: Lewis-Palmer downs Palmer Ridge; claims fourth straight title

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

DENVER — The echoes of the scoring celebrations reverberated throughout a mostly empty Denver Coliseum. The remaining onlookers glanced at the east side of the floor. Lewis-Palmer was still playing, trying to close out the final match of the night.

Trying to win a fourth consecutive Class 4A volleyball championship.

Throughout the season, the Rangers overcame doubt and lowered expectations. On Saturday alone, they overcame a 2-0 deficit to Coronado. They overcame a coaching goof to start the championship match. At the end of the night, they stood exactly where they're used to standing; with championship gold in their hands.

For the fourth year in a row and the sixth time in seven years, Lewis-Palmer is the 4A champion of volleyball. They became champions by winning the battle of Monument and beating rival Palmer Ridge 20-25, 25-21, 25-18, 21-25, 15-9.

"I think this showed our mental maturity," senior Dani Norman said. "I think every girl on this team has worked so hard to not only improve their skills, but to improve their mentalities. We've learned how to adjust quickly instead of getting down on ourselves."

The slow start to the match was prompted by a genuine mistake by coach Wade Baxter. He flipped two numbers on his rotation card and the mistake cost the Rangers (21-8 overall) well into the set.

"I just transposed two numbers," Baxter said. "I've been putting the line up in that way all year but we should've caught it at the beginning. That's on me."

He was quick to point out that it wasn't the reason that the Rangers dropped the set. He thought the Bears (21-9) battled through that first set and earned every bit of that win.

But once the weight of the mistake was off and the team was able to play freely in that second set, a glimpse of the L-P team that most in the Coliseum were expecting came out. Norman and Maggie Masters were swinging hard, converting on clutch kills and trying to be equally as dangerous when blocking. They jumped up to a 2-1 lead after the third set and felt at ease because they knew they were going after something they wanted and something they believed they could get.

"We were willing to fight harder," Norman said. "We wanted it more. I said that to my team. Nobody wants it as much as us because we have such big shoes to fill. And we felt that we had to do it this year."

The Bears battled and took the fourth set to even the match and send it to round five where so much was on the line. League bragging rights, town bragging rights and state bragging rights were all balled into whomever could score 15 points first.

"I think we just needed to like be disciplined in the little things and make sure that we didn't like get too overwhelmed with how tired we are or their crowd getting louder," Gianna Bartalo said. "We just wanted to do the little things to make sure we were disciplined."

They jumped out to a quick 6-3 lead and a big Norman kill prompted Palmer Ridge coach Trevor Sullivan to call timeout. A kill from Madison Wilson got the Bears the serve back, but they were never able to rattle off consecutive points until the set was out of reach.

A combined block from Masters and Peyton Burnett finished the match and set the Rowdy Rangers into a frenzy. During early season matches, a state title felt like a pipe dream. But in a Denver Coliseum that had already seen four championships decided - a time when the Rangers were accustomed to winning theirs - it very much became a reality.

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)