LITTLETON — Columbine sisters Abi and Rita Nua intensely eyed the ball on what would be the final point during the nearly 7-hour marathon of volleyball action Saturday.
The bump over the net by Denver East senior Bella Simkus after a serve by sophomore Rita Nua landed just out to conclude the long day at Dakota Ridge High School. The No. 4-seeded Rebels immediately went into celebration mode after Columbine clinched the Class 5A Region 4 title and berth into the state tournament with a 25-18, 25-21, 19-25, 25-17 over the Angels.
“It’s amazing. These girls are resilient,” Columbine coach Shelly Kurach said. “It was one step at a time. We fought and we fought and we stuck together. That is why we won. These girls are awesome people.”
The Rebels (12-1 record) opened the regional tournament with a 5-set victory over No. 21 Loveland. Columbine scored the first eight points in the final set to lock up the big victory, but it was a few sets earlier that really turned it around for the Rebels.
Loveland (9-5) and Columbine had split the first two sets, but the Indians looked to go up 2-1 with a commanding lead in the third.
Kurach pointed to the Rebels’ come-from-behind victory in the third set as a key moment during the day. The Indians held an 18-7 lead, but Columbine rallied to take a 26-24 win and steal a 2-1 lead in the match.
“Our coach prepared us so well,” Abi Nua said. “She puts all the faith in us. She teaches us and we use those skills on the court.”
Columbine closed out a 25-22, 23-25, 26-24, 22-25, 15-7 victory over Loveland to grab the driver’s seat. No. 13 Denver East (13-2) edged Loveland in another 5-set triller to set up a winner-take-all situation in the final match.
The Rebels grabbed a 2-0 lead behind the play of Abi Nua, who came in with more than 220 kills on the season. Denver East continued to set its left side to avoid giving a chance for Abi Nua to block any spike attempts on the senior’s side of the net.
“No matter what happens on the court we are ready to play that ball,” Abi said about Denver East staying away from her side of the court the entire match. “I trust my team and every one of my teammates.”
The Angels weren’t done after falling behind. Denver East took a 25-19 victory in the third set to threaten to force a third straight 5-set match.
“I knew we were all tired and we had worked so hard,” Columbine junior setter Audrey Dowd said. “We were sinking a little in that third (set), but we pulled out of it.”
Abi Nua got involved offensively with several kills in the last set. Dowd looked to Abi Nua with the Rebels trying to wrap up the victory.
“It’s nice when you have someone like Abi who can close it out,” Dowd said.
Every ball Abi Nua seemed to touch in the final set ended up on the floor on Denver East’s side of the net.
“Abi is an amazing player and she works hard,” Kurach said. “She is the first one in the gym and the last one to leave. She does her job and trusts her teammates to do their job. She hold them to a high standard all the time and that is why this team works.”
Columbine was the final 5A team to advance to state. Mountain Vista, Rampart, Ralston Valley, Columbine, Cherry Creek, Legend, Grandview and Chatfield are the eight qualifiers. The Class 5A Jeffco League qualified three teams to the condensed 8-team state tournament this season.
“That is awesome. I can’t be more proud of our league,” Kurach said of the Rebels joining rivals Chatfield and Ralston Valley in the state tournament. “It’s so great we can get to the final 8 and represent Jeffco. It says how strong our conference is.”
It will be a bit of a wait now. 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.
While Kurach said the challenge now is to keep her squad focused for the state tournament, the Rebels won’t mind a bit of time before heading back into competition.
“I think we are ready to have a little rest,” Abi said of the 10-day break before the state tournament. “I know we are all really tired, but really excited to play on that state floor.”