COLORADO SPRINGS — Rampart volleyball coach Nikki Bloemen has experienced the struggles that Rampart has felt in the state tournament, both as a coach and a player.
She was a standout hitter before she graduated from the school in 2009 and embarking on a successful collegiate career. She coach teams that had every bit of potential to walk out as state champion, but just couldn't quite live up to it. So the excitement was obvious when Hadleigh Richardson's block gave the Rams a 25-17, 22-25, 25-13, 25-23 win over Grandview to give them the Class 5A state volleyball title, the first in school history.
"It's why we coach, to give them these types of experiences," Bloemen said. "Especially in a year like this where they've been dealing with hardships. They didn't get to go to their prom last weekend because they were focused on this. They've been giving things up all season for this rewarded."
She quickly noted that the reward was earned. The Rams (13-1 overall) spotted Grandview a six-point lead before the big hitters got involved. Riley Simpson and Anjelina Starck started swimming hard hoping to give Rampart the momentum needed to claw back into the match. They pulled even at 11-11 on a Simpson kill and then jumped out ahead for the first time in the match on as she put another ball down with a solid swing.
After reaching the quarterfinals a year ago, Simpson was playing with a bit of urgency in her quest to lead the Rams to a title.
"This has been years in the making," she said. "Last year we didn't quite make it as far as we did this year and we just put the work in day in and day out."
A Starck kill made it 20-17 and the Rams never looked back in the first set. They didn't look quite as settled in the second and had more difficulty hitting around Grandview standout Addison O'Grady. The Wolves (13-5 overall) fell behind early but found a rally of their own and eventually took a 17-14 lead and eventually won the set.
That was going to be the wake-up call that Rampart needed. Starck and Simpson went on a hitting spree as the Rams cruised in the third set and closed the match out in the fourth.
Starck finished with a match-high 26 kills and relished the accomplishment of the goals she had for the team since she moved to Rampart from Las Vegas at the start of the 2019 season.
"Since the day I got here, everyone treated me like family," she said. "I knew I belonged here right when I walked in the door and it's something I had never experienced before, just how great of a family atmosphere this is."
For Bloemen, Rampart has always been family. Prior to the start of the season, she and her husband welcomed a daughter and if anything since then, the relationships she has built as a coach has only gotten stronger with the added perspective of having her own family.
"In a lot of ways, 2020 and 2021 have been rough," Bloemen said. "But I had a baby and now I've coached a state championship team. That's all been really great."
Although this is just the first state volleyball title for Rampart, it is the 13th overall team championship for the school.