Thursday marked the start of the CHSAA girls' volleyball playoffs, and Colorado Springs was well represented.
Four teams made state in the top two classifications. Both 5A No. 6 Rampart and 4A No. 1 Palmer Ridge looked to defend titles from last year, while No. 2 Cheyenne Mountain and No. 8 Discovery Canyon looked to unseat the Bears.
Here's how the inaugural day of competition went.
5A No. 6 Rampart
Being a defending champion is a two-sided equation. On one hand, you have the experience of being in a crowded arena against the state's best teams. On the other, you have a target placed directly between the numbers of your jersey.
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Legend proved as much, topping Rampart 3-2 (25-23, 25-17, 25-23, 25-23, 15-13) in a comeback effort which saw the Rams roll to a 2-0 set lead before losing three straight. The Titan win was payback for their loss to the same team in last year's playoffs, 3-0.
Sophomore Izzy Starck was able to find a roll, tallying three-or-more kills in a row on multiple occasions — the third, fourth and fifth set. Outside of the setter-turned-hitter, the Rams were largely quiet.
"We got comfortable and expected the other team to give us points," coach Nikki Bloemen said. "We're at state — there are no free points. It ended up biting us in the butt."
Starck is just one Ram who's been asked to switch roles. Other players were also shuffled around, and it too played a role in the team not finding a groove after two standout frames.
In the fifth frame, the Rams held a lead with three points left to win, but ceded the lead and match to Legend.
Rampart will play No. 5 Valor Christian at 8 a.m. Friday for the chance to stay alive in the loser's bracket. Another loss, and the Rams will be eliminated.
4A No. 1 Palmer Ridge
The Bears, because of their performance in the regular season, were given a first-round bye. With it, they received the rest and preparation needed to clash with league foe Discovery Canyon.
After breezing through the first set, Palmer Ridge dropped the second before capturing two more sets en route to a 3-1 (25-10, 25-18, 26-24, 25-13) win.
When the lull hit for Palmer Ridge, mental strength and focus was all it needed.
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"They're such a competitive team," coach Erica Bradley said. "In set one, and set four, we had the mental part down. We have the talent, but our success comes from celebrating one another. When we don't, we can struggle."
After the match, the Bears stood in a circle and passed around pick-ups to teammates before handing out a game ball. The exercise is a continuation of what Bradley sees on the court, especially in wins.
Next up for Palmer Ridge is a date with No. 4 Thompson Valley at 2 p.m. Friday. All that remains between the Bears and a repeat is three more wins.
4A No. 2 Cheyenne Mountain
The Red-Tailed Hawks aren't in the business of letting Palmer Ridge have all the fun.
Cheyenne Mountain, after putting together a top regular season record, is now looking to overcome the defending champs.
In their 3-0 (25-15, 25-21, 25-20, 25-9) win over No. 10 Holy Family, the Red-Tailed Hawks found a groove, though it took a minute. They rattled off a 14-4 run to end the first set and never looked back.
"Coming into the World Arena is just a whole new atmosphere," coach Ellen Senf said. "I think it takes a couple points to settle in. We don't play in arenas like this every day. Once we got up, though, we shook that off."
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Cheyenne Mountain was one of the last teams to play its first game, so early rust made sense. Senior Karlee Pinell asserted her presence at the net, the Red-Tailed Hawks avoided long bouts of mistakes and their reward is a duel with No. 6 Niwot Friday — a team that upset No. 3 Windsor in three sets.
This time, they won't have to wait all day, either. The matchup is slated to start around 3:30 p.m.
4A No. 8 Discovery Canyon
For once, the Thunder would like to miss Palmer Ridge in the postseason. Last year, they were upended by the eventual champions in three sets.
A first-round win over No. 9 Palisade, 3-1 (25-21, 25-14, 25-19, 25-16), set Discovery Canyon up once again to face the Bears. As prepared as it was, the group just couldn't overcome the top-ranked 4A team in the state.
The second set of their match saw the Thunder put together a dominate blocking performance. The efforts were led by freshman Erika Sayer, who also made an impact on offense.
Once the block lost some effectiveness, the Bears found a rhythm and were too much.
Discovery Canyon will play No. 7 Erie in the loser's bracket at 9:30 a.m. Friday. It still has the ability to win state, but would have to win its remaining matchups, including the title game, to do so.