November 9, 2013 Updated: November 9, 2013 at 9:45 pm
Denver -- Manitou Springs tempted fate one too many times at the 3A state volleyball tournament Saturday at the Denver Coliseum.
After falling behind two sets to none twice, and rallying to win both of those matches, the Mustangs (28-1) fell to Eaton 25-20, 25-13, 25-12 in the state championship match. It was the Mustangs' only loss this season.
"We were a little bit tired, but Eaton is a good team and they have improved 110 percent since the first time we played them this season," Manitou Springs coach Carol Benedict said. "We knew our blocks would be key and we didn't get blocks on the girls we needed to."
Eaton (27-1) took advantage of Manitou Springs' tired legs, playing with tenacity and taking it to the Mustangs. There wasn't enough gas left in the tank after such a long, grueling day.
The Mustangs' wild ride Saturday began with them falling behind Gunnison 2-0 before winning three-straight sets to advance to the semifinals. Once there, they fell behind second-seeded Valley 2-0 before storming back to reach the finals.
Although none of the players used it as an excuse, it was apparent Manitou Springs was mentally and physically exhausted.
"Eaton is a very good team, and we played our hearts out and went all out," said sophomore Nicole Mack, who's been playing with a broken bone in her big toe for the last few months. "I had my two toes taped together and it didn't hurt that bad. But I think this team can come back next year if we keep working hard."
Manitou Springs is a young team, with only three seniors and one junior. The majority of the squad will return for two more seasons, and the Mustangs hope to take things a step further next year.
"I don't think anyone expected us to do this well this season, and I don't think we even knew ourselves how good we could be," sophomore Katie McKiel said. "From the beginning we knew we had potential and we wanted to get back to state this season. We wanted to win it, but we lost to a good team and they deserve it."
With players like McKiel and Mack returning, the future is bright for the Mustangs. However, Benedict said the three seniors - Riley Witham, Kristiana Longfield and Georgia Sinclair - will be missed greatly.
"They meant an incredible amount to building this program back up and were great leaders and inspired everyone else to work hard," Benedict said. "The future is bright, and we'll be back."
Witham, a four-year varsity player, reflected on her final season with a smile.
"We beat a lot of good teams this season, and I'm proud of what we accomplished," she said. "I couldn't have asked for a better group to play with. Making it to state is a privilege, and even though we lost we deserved to be here."