By Danny Summers
The Woodland Park High School volleyball team continues to prove it belongs in the same conversation with the state’s top programs.
The Panthers reinforced their argument on Oct. 5 when they won the Palmer Tournament for the first time in four tries by defeating Horizon in straight sets (26-24, 25-23). Woodland Park was No. 7 in the Class 4A RPI standings at the time, while Horizon, a 5A program, was No. 15.
“We played well, but I think we still have room to improve,” said long-time Woodland Park coach Stacy Roshek. “It’s good to see we can win close games.”
Panthers’ senior Sarah Garner spiked a game-high 11 kills vs. Horizon. She is one of the top middle blockers in the state and is dangerous both as a hitter and on defense.
“She’s really stepping up and taking on the role of being the go-to player,” Roshek said.
The Panthers won eight of nine sets in the tournament. They also defeated 5A programs Palmer (2-0) and Poudre (2-1), and 4A Lotus School for Excellence (2-0).
“We need to work on keeping our errors down,” Roshek said. “We tend to play down to the other team’s level sometimes.”
Woodland Park (11-1, 2-0 in the Metro League) is enjoying another successful season after advancing to the postseason in 2018. The Panthers were 20-5 last fall and hosted a regional.
The top 12 teams host a 3-team regional. The winner of each regional advances to the state tournament.
“Our league is weak, but we have to keep playing strong,” Roshek said. “We have to keep winning and control what we can control.
“The RPI is not a reflection of how good we are.”
The Panthers actually dropped two spots — from 8 to 10 — in the RPI standings after defeating Elizabeth (2-12, 1-1) in a 3-set sweep on Tuesday. Roshek and her players are hoping they can remain in the top 12 despite playing weaker teams in the conference.
“It’s going to be close, just like last year,” Roshek said.
The Panthers have gotten solid play all season from the numerous players. Garner leads the team in kills with 120, followed by senior outside hitter Delaney Battin (93) and junior middle blocker Trinity McAbee (61). McAbee’s .443 kills percentage is tops on the team and in the conference.
“Trinity is really stepping up,” Roshek said.
Woodland Park has not won a league volleyball title in more than a quarter-century. The Panthers were second last season to The Classical Academy.