COLORADO SPRINGS — Through the late 1980's and much of the 90's, Merino was the dominant girls volleyball team in Colorado.
After a thrilling 15-25, 16-25, 25-11, 25-18, 15-9 come from behind win over Fleming, the Rams have once again navigated to the top of the mountain. They are the Class 1A girls volleyball state champions for the first time since 2001 and the very second the ball hit the ground for the final point, the weight of a championship drought seemed to lift from the shoulders of every fan, coach and player.
"I think last year, it was the reason that we didn't make it to the final match," Madison Sutter said. "This year we just kind of took that weight off our shoulder and it turned out amazing."
It was more amazing considering the road taken. After dominating their first two matches of the state tournament, the Rams (17-2 overall) found themselves in a quick hole. The first set was a see-saw battle early, but the Wildcats (15-3) pulled ahead and claimed the 10-point win. They came out strong in the second set, taking a 10-5 lead early and hung on giving the crowd at the Broadmoor World Arena every indication that they were going to defend their title.
"I didn't feel any pressure," Sutter said with a laugh.
It was an easy to claim to make after claiming a state championship.
But reality was starting to sink in. Fleming had been responsible for taking Merino out of the state tournament the last two seasons. Getting back into the match was a tough task and it became one as easy as taking it one point at a time.
"It was a big mental block, I think," coach Christin Sutter said. "They dug deep. I thought we'd do it from the start, but we didn't. I'm glad they found it before it was too late."
They just had to start. Down 2-0 is never an ideal place to be in a volleyball match but with every point scored they built more confidence. When the tied the match at two sets apiece, the confidence was there and they knew the championship was theirs for the taking.
"We work our butts off," Faith Trenkle said. "The determination we have is amazing it was great to see it pay off."
The sweetest part of the whole thing is that they got to do against the team that has caused them so much angst in recent years.
"Fleming is definitely the best team we've played in my four years here," Trenkle said. "We've come so close in all four years."
And this year, they finally got the postseason win they so desperately craved.
"It was awesome," she added.
There was a time that winning championships had become routine for the Merino volleyball program. In a span of 16 years, the Rams claimed 10 titles. That includes a span of five straight championships from 1987 to 1991.
This is the 11th overall state title for the Rams, third most in state history.