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File, The Gazette

HIGHLANDS RANCH - No loss is created equal for No. 1 Palmer Ridge girls' volleyball. 

This year, no loss had even occurred before Tuesday's showdown with 5A No. 7 Valor Christian. The Bears fell 3-1 (25-21, 25-22, 23-25, 25-19) to the Eagles, ending their seven-match win streak — 12 if you include last season. 

The top team in 4A needed it, though. 

"Valor is the toughest competition we've played yet," coach Erica Bradley said. "A team like that really pushes the envelope and challenges us to play in ways we're not used to. They exposed a lot of our weaknesses." 

Among those weaknesses for Palmer Ridge is an imposing block, especially one as powerful as the Eagles'. 

No team is perfect, even one that won the 4A state title last year, despite the impact of COVID-19 moving an entire season from the fall to spring. 

Senior Madison Wilson made her hay last year as one of the team's top hitters and has risen to the top of this season's club. 

She faced the Valor block the most. 

"I think it taught us a lot, because we didn't see a lot of the things we needed to work on before this," Wilson said. "With blocking, we need to work on that — figuring out how to get past a block and learn how to play bigger teams." 

That length showed itself most to begin sets. In three different games, the Bears fell behind early. After a first-set loss, the visitors even charged out to a 9-1 lead in the second.

Several athletes across the Palmer Ridge roster are sophomores or younger. Freshman Amelia Hansen saw multiple chances at net against Valor and found a rhythm with her own block. 

Hansen doesn't have the benefit of going through a state title run last season that culminated in a win over Mead. The Bears played those same Mavericks last week — a three-set sweep. 

To the Bears' credit, Valor is likely the toughest team they'll face all year, even if they go through another 4A postseason. 

"They're a really solid team with a lot of good players," Bradley said. "We're very talented, but we're not used to that level of competition yet. It's a huge benefit to play them. 

"Our girls have to work on being able to maintain the energy it takes to overtake a team like that." 

The loss precedes matchups with Pueblo County, Doherty, Fountain-Fort Carson and Vista Ridge — no easy stretch. 

Losing three sets Tuesday puts the Bears' total at only five frames through eight matches. 

A sudden stretch of losses isn't something Palmer Ridge faces often, and figures to avoid this year, as well. 

The Bears' loss in their biggest match thus far may do more good than bad. 

"This game is humbling, it brings the girls down to where they need to be," Bradley said. "We have to figure out how to regroup after a loss like this and move forward. Volleyball is a very mental sport — if we can figure out that piece, things will only get better." 

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