Tuesday afternoon at Silver Creek High School, head volleyball coach Jill Olson had her team's practice firmly implanted in her mind. As soon as the past weekend became a topic, however, things went a little off course.
"We're going into this big important weekend and I wanted to start practice right at 2:45, but we just ended up spending the first 30 minutes laughing with each other and reminiscing," said Olson, whose team is one of 60 statewide and just 12 in the Class 4A ranks still playing its 2015 season. "I mean, just what an underdog we are or how everyone takes us, and we're just having a ball. We're messing up some teams' (state title hopes), having fun playing."
And learning along the entire way, which is what the Raptors had to do together as a team filled with fresh varsity players.
The 2014 Silver Creek varsity team had seven seniors, two juniors and three sophomores. And, of those five possible returning players for 2015, only two actually came back to be a part of Olson's second year.
Outsiders would tell you that's a rebuilding project if ever one existed. And while the Raptors meandered their way through the tough Northern League, they were nothing if not resilient.
"It's just been so cool to see the growth we've had to where we're able to go to the state championships," junior setter McKenna Webster, one of the returners, said Tuesday. "This year, we had one real varsity player return (Kelsey Adams), and so it was intimidating for all of us at first. I feel that we've gained a lot of confidence every single game."
All season long, their fight and athleticism has overshadowed their lack of height — the latter of which most successful volleyball squads have in droves.
And, they've been successful as a team running a deep rotation. Nine girls have played most of the sets this season, with a 10th playing almost half.
Five different players — Tori Schindler, Rylee Anderson, Taylor Merriman, Chloe Olson and Adams — have at least 143 kills, or more than 1.7 kills per set.
"We have a ton of good athletes and they are just winning to jump in and do what it takes," Olson said. "We don't have a 6-foot-4 girl on our team that can just stand up and pound them down and block. We've had to learn defense because we don't have a big block; we've had to learn to hit around a block because they can't hit over anybody.
"You tell these girls to do something, and they can't get to it fast enough. They want to do it best and they want to be the best. All that said, they just have fun playing the game they love."
So, for this unheralded squad, the fact they have to open up the state tournament Friday morning against two-time defending champion Cheyenne Mountain is no big thing.
Even if things don't go the way they plan, they'll be able to reminisce about accomplishments not many gave them a chance for this season.
"We've come this far and we don't have any expectations going into state, so I'm excited that we just can play and have some fun out there," Webster said.