DENVER • Top-seeded Pine Creek and No. 8 Doherty entered the Class 5A state tournament on opposite ends of the bracket, but the Spartans exited Day 1 sitting in the driver’s seat.
In the first match for both teams Friday, Doherty upset Pine Creek 25-22, 19-25, 25-20, 25-23 to avenge a regular-season loss to the Eagles.
The Spartans (22-6) kept that momentum going by sweeping No. 4 Arapahoe 25-23, 25-22, 25-17, making up for a loss to the Warriors (19-9) last weekend in regionals.
“Today was a little bit of a revenge day for us,” coach Julie Ortiz said. “Coming in as the eighth seed, we don’t care. We know we can take the whole thing.”
A win over No. 5 Ponderosa today would make the Spartans 3-0 in pool play and guarantee them a spot in the semifinals and a chance to win their first state title since 2003.
Against Arapahoe, the Spartans appeared to get stronger as the match wore on, using a late 7-1 run to seal the second game.
Junior outside hitter Taylor Simpson made several big kills late in Game 2 and sustained it Game 3, finishing with 18 kills in the match. Junior setter Jocelyn Rovik dished out 23 assists in the match, mostly to Simpson and senior Chelsea Szretter, who had nine kills.
The Spartans kept their energy level up in the third game, closing out the match on an 8-point run.
“They were just really tired and we were really excited,” Simpson said. “We built each other up and just put balls down.”
Eagles first-year coach Ashlynn Smith was reminded by her former boss, Cheyenne Mountain coach David Barkley, that the Indians came back from a first-match loss a year ago to win the 4A state championship. She used that reminder as motivation for her team.
“I just told them it’s been done before so we can do it again,” Smith said. “We just need to put that one away and move on.”
The Eagles (24-4) took the message to heart, bouncing back with 25-23, 22-25, 25-19, 25-23 win over Ponderosa (25-4). Pine Creek's defense, which struggled against Doherty, played strong against a balanced Mustangs attack. Senior libero Allie Hoskins anchored the back line with 22 digs and 6-foot-6 junior middle blocker Katherine Feldman had seven blocks to go with seven kills.
Changes in the Eagles' approach on the attack kept the Mustangs defense off-balance.
“We wanted to spread out our offense and get everyone involved,” Smith said. “We did a really nice job and kept their blockers guessing and kept the outside hope for our hitters.”