For the second consecutive season, the Woodland Park volleyball team fell one victory short of winning its regional and advancing to the state tournament.
The latest setback occurred last Saturday, Nov. 9 when the Panthers lost in four sets (25-14, 23-25, 24-26, 18-25) to Thomas Jefferson in front of a packed Woodland Park gymnasium.
“The challenge was that T.J. had strong hitters and strong blockers that we hadn’t seen all season and I don’t think we were ready for that,” said Woodland Park coach Stacy Roshek.
Woodland Park helped prepare for the regional by playing a scrimmage Nov. 6 at Rampart that also involved Pueblo West, Colorado Springs Christian School and Pine Creek.
“We did not control our game today,” Roshek said. “Our passing hurt us a little bit, so we couldn’t get the balls to our (middle blockers) as much as we needed to.
“We did well in the first set, but then we kind of got tight in the second set and I don’t think we were ready after that.”
The Panthers (22-3), who last played in the state tournament in 1992, were the No. 11 seed in the three-team regional. They easily disposed of Green Mountain in straight sets (25-18, 25-21, 25-11) in the early match to advance to the championship game.
But Thomas Jefferson (16-9) proved to be relentless in the pursuit of its first state tournament appearance since 2016. The Spartans rallied after being dominated in the first set and continually gave the extra effort by coming up with impressive digs, blocks and kills that seemed to put a dent in Woodland Park’s game flow.
“We started to not trust each other and we started to turn on each other a little bit and we just didn’t have that team aspect we needed for a game like this,” said Panther senior outside hitter Delaney Battin. “We were playing for ourselves. We got flustered and we started to fall apart.”
Battin and her teammates were visibly emotional and frustrated after the match. They felt they should have put Thomas Jefferson away on several occasions.
“(Thomas Jefferson) played great and they deserve it, but we should have finished the second and third sets,” said Woodland Park senior setter Karly Purkey. “It’s hard when one person on the court gets down. It brings everybody else on the court down and it’s hard to stay positive.”
The Panthers had every opportunity to sweep the match. Thomas Jefferson led 19-14 in the second set, but Woodland Park roared back to tie it up at 21-21 before losing by two.
In the third set, Woodland Park led 22-16, but was outscored 10-2 down the stretch.
During the fourth set, Woodland Park trailed 15-14, but Thomas Jefferson closed the match out by going on a 10-4 run.
“It seemed like (Thomas Jefferson) was giving it their all and they were having a better time than us,” Battin said.
Panthers Nation was out in full force. Several members of the school’s football painted their torsos green in support of the team and shouted out encouraging chants of approval.
Also in the crowd was Woodland Park Mayor Neil Levy, former athletic directors Doug Kinney and Bob Graf, former volleyball coach Vickie Cusimano (who led the program to its only three state tournament appearance in 1990, 1991 and 1992), and a half dozen of her players from those teams.
“(Woodland Park) played some great volleyball today,” Cusimano said. “I thought they were a clean-playing, very composed team. I was very impressed with them.”
The Panthers graduate three seniors in middle blocker Sarah Garner, Battin and Purkey. Garner will finish her classes in December and attend the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs beginning in January on a volleyball scholarship.
“High school has always been a big part of my life, and these girls have helped me move on to the place I am now,” Garner said.
“Losing is always hard and it’s tough knowing we were a win away from going to state.”