The Woodland Park volleyball team is very good. Maybe even great.

But does it have enough in its tank to advance to its first state tournament in 27 years?

I believe so.

The Panthers have to win twice in their regional Saturday, which they are hosting, in order to claim one of the 12 spots in the Class 4A state tournament that will be played Nov. 14-16 at the Denver Coliseum. It won’t be easy, but if the Panthers do advance to state, all the hard work and countless hours spent training and conditioning will be worth the reward.

The state tournament is a wild scene. Volleyballs fly around the gym likes bats in the evening at Carlsbad Caverns. Screams of joy from the players can be deafening.

Thirty-six teams are playing in 12 regionals this weekend. Usually, the cream rises to the top with the best teams moving on. Woodland Park coach Stacy Roshek believes her group has been on a steady rise all season. The girls had their first official practice back on Aug. 12, and defeated Pueblo Central in straight sets to open the season on Aug. 29.

The Panthers have faced their fair share of adversity this season. They started 5-0 and were No. 1 in the RPI standings when they hosted No. 4 Discovery Canyon on Sept. 24. The Thunder won in five sets, but Roshek’s crew showed some serious moxie by battling back from 2-0 to force a winner-take-all fifth game.

Woodland Park accomplished something on Halloween I’ve never seen before. With snow, ice and freezing temperatures wreaking havoc on scheduling, the Panthers played a rare double-header.

They traveled to Widefield for a 3 p.m. match, downing the Gladiators in straight sets. They then turned around and went back up Ute Pass for a 6 p.m. tilt with Mesa Ridge. The Panthers disposed of the Grizzlies in straight sets on a festive Senior Night. The wins improved the Panthers to 17-1, and 49-4 in sets this season.

I’ve seen many of the top teams in 4A this fall; Lewis-Palmer, Discovery Canyon, Palmer Ridge and Coronado to name a few. Any of them have the talent to win the state championship. So does Woodland Park.

The state tournament is not so much about having the best players, but playing the best when the pressure is on. In a large arena. With noise everywhere. Away from your comfort zone. Playing at odd times of the day. Moving on and surviving.

The best team in the state — at any level — since the start of the 2016 season is Lewis-Palmer. The Rangers have won the last three state titles — five in six years — and should be the team to beat again this season. The jury is still out on just how good they are, since most of this team was relatively inexperienced at the varsity level before this season.

But before the Panthers can start strategizing for the Lewis-Palmers of the volleyball world, they have to play two solid matches at this weekend’s regional. The Panthers hosted a regional last fall and advanced to the title game against Cheyenne Mountain (state champs from 2008-12 and again in 2015). Woodland Park took the first set, 25-22, but lost the next three by an average of eight points.

How this Saturday’s regional plays out is anyone’s guess. I am going with the Panthers to hoist the trophy.

Let the games begin.

Danny Summers has been covering sports at all levels in the Pikes Peak region since 2001. Send your story ideas and feedback to danny.summers@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

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