After dropping consecutive matches to 4A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference-powers Cheyenne Mountain and Lewis-Palmer on the road last week, Air Academy returned home Tuesday and regained a grasp on the league’s third and final regional playoff spot.
The Kadets did so in tremendous fashion, learning from their past week’s mistakes and picking up an important 25-12, 25-11, 25-22 victory over Falcon in a pivotal league matchup.
“Tonight was important for us to minimize our errors,” said Air Academy coach Toni Schone. “We had a lot of errors in our big games against Cheyenne Mountain and [Lewis-Palmer] so we really focused on that and [the girls] did a great job.”
“We had under 20 errors tonight and that was our focus,” Schone added. “To go onto the regionals and state we have to play like that every night.”
The victory propels Air Academy (11-5, 2-2) into a tie with Falcon (9-5, 2-2), Discovery Canyon, and Palmer Ridge for third in the 4A Pikes Peak.
The Kadets defeated Discovery Canyon 3-1 earlier this season and face Palmer Ridge on Oct. 16. Air Academy’s next three opponents (Vista Ridge, Palmer Ridge and Sand Creek) had a combined 12-28 record heading into Tuesday’s action and Schone knows her team has to remain focused.
“We have been talking about that no matter who we play the focus is the same,” Schone said. “But that will be the key going into regionals. Being focused and staying focused for the next three games.”
Senior co-captain Chelsea Payne (20 kills) led a determined Kadet squad. After winning the first game 25-12, Air Academy used a 12-0 run to erase a 5-3 deficit in winning Game 2 25-11.
“We’re just playing one game at a time, one point at time and going on from there,” Payne said. “There is nothing else we can do. We talk it up and just everyone plays their game.”
Fellow senior Justine Jenkinson was a strong presence at the net with seven kills and six combined blocks.
“We’ve had some hard practices and prepared for this,” said the middle blocker. “We learned [last week] we need to keep our focus and be ready for the game and just play hard.”
Falcon coach Brian Hall credited the Kadets defense for not letting many balls hit the floor, igniting their offense despite a strong effort from Falcon’s Kelly Wilson (five kills) and Holly Hinson (11 digs).
Falcon is most likely on the bubble now for a playoff spot, according to Hall. He added that it’s just another example of how competitive Colorado Springs volleyball is.
“With our league it’s extremely tough right now,” Hall said. “We have some big schools like Cheyenne Mountain, L-P and Air Academy is obviously firing on all cylinders right now. We have our moments as well.”
Schone used a variety of lineups in a tightly contested 25-22 Game 3 victory in preparation for the postseason.
The one constant Kadet on the court?
“Chelsea Payne is always so consistent,” Schone said. “Not only does she hit for me, she passes, she plays defense and she serves well. She is just an all-around player.”
Payne believes despite Air Academy’s struggles against Cheyenne Mountain and Lewis-Palmer last week that the Kadets can be a force once the postseason rolls around.
“I respect every one of those players and coaches for Cheyenne and L-P. They are awesome and are going to be key components in state,” Payne said. “But I think we are going to make it to state and we can compete with a lot of the teams.”