The Fairview Knights made a run at last year's state volleyball tournament that any team feels they can make once they get to that point. Still, it was sort of a whirlwind adventure to the Class 5A state championship game.
From the first open gyms of the summer to now, head coach Kelsey Spencer's 2016 team took a fun approach to the season while at the same time knowing they would be looked at differently — perhaps even as favorites to win the title.
And it has driven them every step of the way, from a Front Range League championship to a regional title on their home floor, to now being one of the top seeds for Friday's tournament at the Denver Coliseum.
"Since a lot of us from last year are still here playing, we just got a very good taste of what it feels like to be on that championship court, and we never let that goal out of sight," said senior middle Meredith Pearl, whose team leads the Pool III contingent that includes Mountain Vista and Cherry Creek. "It's been our greatest motivator."
"We feel like we're stacked this year, and I think we've come to realize this is the year for us with all of our seniors," said classmate Haley Kilday, an outside hitter. "We've put in a lot of fire and passion that has allowed us to win so many games to get here, and getting so close to winning last year has definitely stirred up something in all of us."
Fairview started the season ranked No. 2 by CHSAANow.com, and the Knights endured a few tough losses at the beginning of the year that might have humbled them just a bit.
With setter Audrey Cheng and hitters Caroline and Christine Schmiedeler, Kilday and Pearl heavily involved, Fairview really got going in FRL play, an exclamation point on their potential being a 3-0 sweep of Fossil Ridge at Fairview that was a key victory in their league title quest.
Ten more consecutive wins have followed, heading to a morning match against the Bruins (21-4). Fairview (21-4) also plays Mountain Vista (20-5) on Friday night with the opportunity to secure a berth in the semifinals that would be played Saturday afternoon.
While they are 1-3 overall against teams that made the 5A field (not having previously played Vista or Creek), the win against Fossil Ridge still is feeding into their confidence that, yes, they should be considered a contender.
And having their two pool play matches on Friday also has the Knights focused.
"For me, I find it incredibly exciting that we were able to beat the No. 1 team and I'm fully confident that we can take it this year with effort and the passion," Kilday said. "We just know that goal is totally reachable."
"Last year we played like 13 sets on Saturday, which is ridiculous and we were exhausted," Pearl said. "Our pool is hard, but we have it set up to where we don't have to play as much on Saturday if we make it. We tried to do our best to set ourselves up well for this. I think we are in top condition right now and we all are just ready to go out and win."
While Fairview represents the lone big school team in Boulder County still playing, Lyons is the smallest school still alive. With their gauntlet schedule and a 19-6 overall record, the Lions earned a wild card bid but was placed as the No. 5 seed among 12 teams.
It's another local team that has a lot of experience (three state appearances in the past four years), including getting to the semifinals last year. Lyons will play Colorado Springs School (23-2) Friday and Denver Christian (19-5) on Saturday.