ARVADA — It was a confident, but not over-confident undefeated Ralston Valley volleyball team that took to its home court for the final time this season on Friday night.
The No. 3-seeded Mustangs (16-0 record) faced two more hurdles before they could punch their ticket to the Class 5A state tournament scheduled for May 12 and 13 in Colorado Springs. Ralston Valley needed victories over No. 22 Brighton and No. 14 Liberty to continue its season for another week and a half.
“We didn’t want to overestimate any of the teams or underestimate any of the teams,” Ralston Valley senior Brianna Fay said of facing Brighton and Liberty. “Coming in with an undefeated season we were feeling great, but we didn’t want to underestimate anyone. We want to come out and play our game.”
The Mustangs might not have been perfect, but they were pretty close. Ralston Valley dominated Brighton with a 3-0 victory with set scores of 25-19, 25-23 and 25-10 to open up the 5A Region 3 tournament. Liberty cruised past the Bulldogs in straight sets to create a winner-take-all situation in the final match of the night.
Ralston Valley took care of business with another straight-set victory. The Mustangs defeated the Lancers 25-19, 25-13 and 25-10 to officially qualify for the state tournament.
“Being the top team everyone wants to play their best game against you,” Ralston Valley coach Ashley Ahlman said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet. That is super encouraging. I thought we played well tonight. I thought we had moments of greatness. I’m excited to have another week and a half with this team and see how much further we can push. See how much better we can be.”
Fay was outstanding with a trio of service runs against Liberty. She was also impressive with a handful of kills from the backline on spikes in both matches.
“She (Fay) is 100 percent the most athletic kid in any gym we walk into,” Ahlman said. “She can do it all. I love that kid. She is special.”
Ralston Valley senior Jamie Dorczuk had a strong match against Liberty, especially in the second set. Dorczuk had a trio of kills to give the Mustangs firm control of the match.
“It was a roller coast of emotions. It’s bittersweet,” Dorczuk said after playing her final home match. “I love this team. It was exciting, but sad at the same time. I’m just excited about us getting this far.”
Ralston Valley senior Emerson Tacha’s service winner was the final point of the night. The Mustangs celebrated on its home court for the final home match of the season before being presented the Region 3 plaque.
“We’ve had eyes on the prize since the start,” Ahlman said. “The first practice of the season my setter (Emerson Reinke) walked in and said, ‘We are winning this.’ I think every single day they have walked into the gym with that mentality.”
It will be a bit of a wait for the Mustangs. The state tournament was originally scheduled for May 10 and 11 the NORCO Volleyball Facility in Loveland, but moved a little over a week ago to May 12 and 13 at The Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.
“We kind of have this gap, but what I love most about this team is they love being together,” Ahlman said. “We are going to make the most of it. These last few weeks are going to be so much fun. I love every day I get with these kids.”
Ralston Valley has paired it talent and depth to gain plenty of confidence. The Mustangs have dropped only five sets in their 16 matches this season.
“I feel super confident with our team,” Fay said. “We have every single thing you need … defense, offense and the perfect setter who can put the ball wherever we need it at any time. I think we can take state this year.”
No. 1 Mountain Vista, No. 2 Rampart and No. 9 Chatfield joined Ralston Valley on winning regional tournaments Thursday and Friday. The remaining four regionals will be played Saturday, May 1.