DENVER — The Lyons volleyball team made the most of their second chances at the Class 2A state volleyball tournament on Saturday, rising from the depths of a pool-play loss and challenging themselves to reset with a state title in mind.
For the first time in 31 years, the Lions can call themselves champs in the sport.
After falling to Wiggins in the final Pool IV game at the Denver Coliseum but fighting back through tie-breakers to make the semifinals, the Lions defeated Meeker to set up a rematch with Yuma in the championship match.
The teams had played a five-set match at Yuma earlier in the year, won by the Indians on their home floor. But on a neutral court and with the stakes raised, the Lions fought off the demons of facing a top-ranked team with everything on the line, beating Yuma 3-1 to win their first title in volleyball since 1986.
"I honestly believe this (championship) comes from every single set that we lost all season and came back from," senior Ixchel Leeuwenburgh said. "It was our team growth, and honestly never taking a loss inside. We decided to fight back, and Yuma, they are a great team and I appreciate the rivalry, but it was their time to go home.
"This is our team's trophy and we fought hard for it."
The now four-time champions were strong in every facet of the game to beat an Indians team that had made four straight championship matches 25-17, 21-25, 25-21, 25-17.
Lyons had Yuma on its heels by taking the first set, and that was the tone LHS continued to take as it fought defensively and through some long points — and at times a hefty Yuma block.
Taylor Maguire led the team with 21 kills and Leeuwenburgh — a senior who won an individual state track title last spring — finished with 12 kills for the Lions (24-5).
Senior Sarah Stevelinck also played a vital role on the back row, digging out plenty of opportunities offered by Yuma's Chasey Blach and Kenedy Roth.
Set one was all Leeuwenburgh as she tallied five kills and pitched in on two blocks, but for Lyons it was more of a team-wide effort after Yuma had come back to tie things up at 1-1.
Sarah Hall (eight kills) and Maguire — the latter who had 33 kills in the early season matchup at Yuma — got going with junior Kylen Christiansen setting from pin to pin.
The Indians couldn't keep up. Set four was tied 9-9 before Lyons scored four of the next five points and gaining the lead for good. Leeuwenburgh and Christiansen had two combo blocks to help get LHS ahead by as much as 22-14, and a kill for Maguire on the right side caused the Lyons bench to rise in unison knowing they had sealed the second team title for LHS this fall — joining the boys cross country team.
"I've played a lot of sports in my life and I've never played with a team with more heart," Leeuwenburgh added. "It takes a lot to come back from a loss in pool play, take the tie-breaker, and then take the semifinals in three and then take one of the teams that scared us. They literally scared us and we took it to them."
For Lyons head coach Mason Johnson, the task of getting his team re-set for a one-game-to-25 points tie-break against Wiggins after the Tigers had pulled an upset on them just an hour earlier was not challenging at all.
That's the way his Lions have been all year, he said. Lyons beat Meeker 26-24 in that tie-breaker to reach the semis.
"We've handled hardship in the past and they rose above it and showed that their love of volleyball meant more than anything else," Johnson said. "We knew we wanted this from the very beginning of the season and we knew it was feasible. We knew we needed to work for it.
"I could not be happier."