By this point in the volleyball season, getting rattled is not an option.
For Niwot and Holy Family at the Class 4A state tournament, the only thing standing in the way of making their Saturday pool play match against each other meaningful was what each did against Eagle Valley on Friday.
As it ended up, Pool II at the Denver Coliseum was all about the Cougars and Tigers. Niwot, the 11 seed, thoroughly dismantled the No. 2 Devils with a 3-0 sweep, and No. 7 Holy Family proceeded neatly in the same routing fashion, beating Eagle Valley 3-1.
The path to the 4A semifinals — a huge step for both programs — goes through each other.
"When we played each other this season they came in and beat us, and I know that is going to add to the fire we play with," said Niwot's Emma Falk, a sophomore who hit .429 on her way to nine kills in Friday's 25-15, 25-23, 25-19 win. "It's for our seniors, knowing that could be their last game, or we could go even farther. Personally, I think we can go farther."
"It's going to be awesome," Holy Family junior middle Jody Gallagher said after the Tigers took a 25-17, 25-19, 21-25, 25-16 victory. "We've played them before, we've beat them and we can beat them again if we fight hard."
All week long, both teams were extremely confident that they'd have a chance to play a rematch with a semifinal spot up for grabs. They played each other on Oct. 24 at NHS, a five-setter that Holy Family eventually eked out.
Scouting the Devils on film, both teams seemed to figure out that a stiff block would be advantageous and they executed on that front brilliantly.
Niwot got the first crack at scoring a win, and the big set 1 margin really fed into their confidence. They served aggressive (eight aces for the match), but more importantly stuffed plenty of Eagle Valley attack attempts, totaling 15 blocks.
"We really built a good rhythm on the court at regionals, and we really believed in ourselves that we could do well when we got there," said Ashley Bradbury, another sophomore. "We were expecting a really good game, and I think we really play well when we have the passion to meet the challenge."
"We prepared all morning, and then when we got out there we were just clicking right from the start because of the high intensity," Falk said. "It was just so fun to work together the way we did."
As a team, Holy Family opted to take their time getting to the Coliseum but head coach Krista Solomon saw what Niwot did — and she made certain to pass a few notes along to her team.
The Tigers took a big lead in set 1 and held onto it, then faced a more consistent Devils team the remainder of the match. But after dropping set 3, Holy Family built up an early 7-1 lead in set 4 and never looked back.
Again, the HFHS block was almost single-handedly the determining factor. Jody Gallagher led the team with 11 combined blocks.
"It was all about staying strong and just knowing we could trust each other," said Gallagher. "We knew we were better. Blocking helps our defense a lot, so that just makes me want to work harder for them."
"Those big games you play during the season prepare you for here, for sure" Solomon said. "We knew we were going to have to go hard in Game 4 and not give them any chance to come back on us."
While BoCo is guaranteed to have a 4A team in the semis, Class 5A Fairview will need a little help to get back into the final four after falling late in their second match, 3-1, to Mountain Vista.
The Knights, seeded third, beat Cherry Creek in four sets early on but could not get their attack going against the Golden Eagles to halt a 12-match winning streak. Cherry Creek would have to beat Vista in order to keep Fairview alive for a tie-break.
Coming off a strong regional, head coach Kelsey Spencer said her team battled through some things throughout the day they have been great at handling in the past.
"We really just took too long to turn it on, and then we already had dug ourselves a hole," Spencer said. "I'm proud of the way they fought back and fought off some calls we disagreed with, but (Vista) is a good team, no doubt. They were scrappy and they had some big hitters ... a good balance of tips and attacks on their side.
"We're going to come back (Saturday) and assume it's not over."
In 2A, No. 5 seed Lyons put up a strong effort against No. 4 Colorado Springs School but could not keep the Kodiaks from assuring their spot in the semis. The Lions took CSS to five sets — winning a see-saw 28-26 set 3 that gave LHS a 2-1 lead — but the Kodiaks were able to put down 11 kills in set 5 for the victory.
"It was amazing to see how far we could push ourselves, especially in that long game," said freshman Taylor Maguire, who had 22 kills and 14 digs in the match. "I honestly don't think we could have done anything different than what we did. I thought we played our hearts out."
No. 10 Silver Creek proved feisty against No. 3 Cheyenne Mountain in its only match but came up short against the Indians 25-13, 26-24, 26-24. The Raptors' hopes were perhaps thwarted in set 2, when they let a 24-21 lead slip from their grasp.
Silver Creek, however, still has a chance to make the semifinals as a result of Valor Christian beating Cheyenne Mountain later on Friday. The Raptors would need to beat Valor, forcing the tie-break scenario.
Colorado state volleyball championships
At Denver Coliseum
No. 3 Fairview def. No. 10 Cherry Creek, 25-13, 21-25, 25-16, 25-20
No. 7 Mountain Vista def. No. 3 Fairview, 25-17, 25-22, 20-25, 25-21
No. 11 Niwot def. No. 2 Eagle Valley, 25-15, 25-23, 25-19
No. 3 Cheyenne Mountain def. No. 10 Silver Creek 25-13, 26-24, 26-24
No. 7 Holy Family def. No. 2 Eagle Valley 25-17, 25-19, 21-25, 25-16
No. 4 Colo. Springs School def. No. 5 Lyons 12-25, 25-21, 26-28, 25-14, 15-11