MONUMENT — Expectations can be tough. They can be tougher when born out of a feeling of what something is supposed to do instead of what it has done.
For years, heavy expectations were placed on the shoulders of the Lewis-Palmer volleyball program. For good reason. The Rangers were snatching like they were dollar bills falling from the sky. Before the Rangers, it was Cheyenne Mountain.
Since the fall of 2008, Cheyenne Mountain and Lewis-Palmer have been the recipients of every Class 4A volleyball state championship trophy.
Others tried to join the party. Ponderosa took a set from Lewis-Palmer once. Valor Christian looked nearly unbeatable in 2017. Mullen, Roosevelt, Coronado. All tried and all came up short.
Last year, Palmer Ridge took the Rangers to five sets. The rivalry between district schools played out on grandest volleyball stage in the state, with the Rangers winning their fourth title in a row and ninth overall.
The expectation this year is that 4A No. 1 Palmer Ridge is going to be the first team not named Lewis-Palmer or Cheyenne Mountain to win state in a decade and a half.
The Bears (7-0 overall, 5-0 5A/4A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference) looked strong in a 25-22, 25-11, 27-25 sweep of No. 4 Discovery Canyon, but what got them more fired up was a win over Lewis-Palmer on March 18.
"It was really nice to finally beat L-P and see that we can finally beat them at state," senior Riley Anderson said. "Last year was an upsetting loss so this year, it was really exciting to get that win."
Anderson was doing everything possible to help her team come away with that upset in the state championship match. She had 19 kills and four blocks, but it just wasn't enough. This season, she has been fantastic. Her hitting percentage heading into Wednesday's match sat at .397, up from .224 last year.
And she's not doing it alone.
Junior Madison Wilson leads the team with 55 total kills and freshman Eva Larochelle is hovering right around Anderson at 36.
What first-year coach Erica Bradley has liked most about her time with the Bears is seeing the willingness of all players to step up when needed.
"With the challenges of COVID and club conflicts, we have a different lineup every single day," Bradley said. "It's been exciting for us because we have a bench full of talent that can step in and perform at any minute. We've been successful because these girls know they have step up and do their part."
And they want it so badly. In a match that felt very much like a playoff game, Discovery Canyon (1-2, 1-1) took a commanding 18-11 lead in the first set before the Bears battled back to win 25-22.
That effort against that team is the kind of grit that state champions experience in their journey to a title, especially with those championship expectations firmly planted on them.
"Coming off of last year's second place at state, they're in for it," Bradley said. "A target is on their back. We have a lot of good returners and just want to keep the momentum up."
Simply having the returners doesn't guarantee success. The experience of getting to that state championship match and nearly doing something that has felt impossible for several years in beating L-P has given them both hunger and humility when looking to complete that tournament run this year.
"We learned a lot of grit, obviously," Anderson said. "It was hard to play them up to five games in a championship match."
Through seven matches the Bears haven't dropped a set. They look every bit the top-ranked team in the classification.
The hard part of living up to that expectation is still to come.