DENVER — Cloud nine just wasn't big enough for both the Fairview and Cherokee Trail volleyball teams on Saturday night.
But Knights coach Kelsey Spencer and her team can move forward knowing that they fulfilled a mission embossed on dog tags back on August 23.
They not only made state, but they put Fairview volleyball on the map after finishing as Class 5A runner-ups at the Denver Coliseum.
"We gave ourselves some cool opportunities and we did a great job making the best of them," Spencer, a 2011 Fairview graduate, said after the Knights fell to fellow first-time title match participants Cherokee Trail, 25-23, 25-20, 25-19. "It's not the ending that we pictured, but I'm so proud of the work they put in this whole season.
"We became an unexpected contender."
The Knights weren't satisfied with making just an appearance at state despite being a No. 8 seed entering the weekend. Two days and one wild ride later — they played 13 sets on Saturday — they had made the 5A title game.
Cherokee Trail, meanwhile, was well rested after winning both its pool play games on Friday as the No. 2 seed. They came out and swept upstart Denver East in a semifinal match, and then proved to be the more vivacious team jumping to a 6-0 lead in the first set, overcoming a 15-14 Fairview lead in Set 2 and then closing out a back-and-forth third set with a late run of seven points out of eight.
The Cougars (25-4) used hitters Shannon Webb and Kenzie Hendon effectively, with Webb blasting several shots from the middle and the back row. It was Webb who ended the match, with an emphatic slam that sent Fairview collectively to the ground.
But they rose quickly, and together, with joy after making it to the title game as underdogs.
"It really felt like we were here for a reason, and we definitely put our work in," said Caroline Schmiedeler, a junior. "It was a bummer (losing to Coronado) but we were fine with just going on. This was just such a great experience."
"It was simply insane," Spencer said.
The Knights sailed through some choppy surf to get to uncharted territory. First there was Friday's upset of No. 1 seed Chatfield, and then on Saturday morning Fairview lost a marathon to Coronado in five sets (including a 30-28 score in the second game). A pool tie-break followed, giving Fairview a chance to get back at Coronado (a 25-23 single set win).
Fairview's semifinal opponent was Rock Canyon, and the Knights really had control for most of that match, winning 25-23, 25-19, 15-25, 25-23.
But the momentum didn't carry over.
"They had a huge block" Schmiedeler said of the Cougars. "You have to expect that at this point ... but they were a strong team."
Fairview may be losing four quality seniors, but Spencer is already budgeting for a run at the title next year.
"We're going after that gold one," Spencer said.