LONGMONT — Usually among the top clubs from Colorado's loaded northern area, the Silver Creek volleyball team enters every season with a certain level of hope and optimism about its potential.
After not even qualifying for regionals in 2017, however, the Raptors didn't necessarily figure to be a state tournament team this fall. But there are surprises every season and the Raptors were one of the biggest this year, qualifying for the state tournament with a shocking victory at the 4A Region 7 tournament last week.
"It's really exciting," Raptors junior Caitlin Volkmann said. "The whole team is pretty young so we're thrilled to go back to state. We really pulled it together and we've become more of a family this year. After last year, we pulled up a lot of new, younger players and that was like a fresh start for us. Being an underdog has actually helped us in that it kept a lot of the pressure off of our young players.
"We knew it would be hard this year but over the summer, I started to notice how well we played together. So even at the beginning of the season, we thought we had a better chance than last year of going far."
Entering the regional round as the No. 18 overall seed, the Raptors (17-8) watched host Erie, a team buoyed by the momentum of hosting a regional for the first time, quickly dispatch No. 30 Abraham Lincoln in three sets to open the tournament. Up next, it was Silver Creek's turn to trounce Lincoln and set up a showdown with Erie for the regional title.
Four sets and 31 kills from Volkmann later, the Raptors had defeated Erie, 3-1, and advanced to the state tournament as the No. 10 seed in 4A. They will play No. 7 Holy Family in the first round at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday with a potential rematch with No. 2 Discovery Canyon in the second round should they advance. The Raptors lost 2-0 to Discovery Canyon at the Palmer Ridge tournament on Oct. 27.
"Anything is possible at this point for this group," Raptors head coach Tatum McKenzie said. "They've overcome a lot of injuries and having to change direction on how we were going to run our offense and things like that. They've adjusted tremendously and we're very young, but they've prepared incredibly well and they're ready. We're looking forward to playing Holy Family tomorrow and we'd love another shot at Discovery Canyon if we can get there."
Starting libero Tess Peter fractured her back and was replaced by a junior varsity sophomore. Right side Maggie Adams injured her knee and will miss the postseason and will be replaced by a junior. The Raptors, who were young and inexperienced to begin the season, have filled one hole after another with younger and less experienced players.
Volkmann, who has been one of the Raptors' few constants this fall, leads all of Colorado with 500 kills on the season and is averaging 6.3 kills per set. She also boasts a 45.5 kill percentage and has been the driving force behind the Raptors' offense all season long.
Prior to their 9-14 finish last season, the Raptors had qualified for the state championship in both 2016 and 2015. Senior setter Emily Churchich, who watched the Raptors' last state tournament appearance as a junior varsity player in 2016 and was also injured for much of the season, can hardly believe that she has the opportunity to end her career at the state tournament.
"We've worked really hard this year and that's brought us closer," Churchich said. "I never thought this would happen but it's amazing and I'm so excited."
The format of this year's state championships has been changed to a double-elimination, Olympic crossover tournament. Once the semifinals field has been set, the tournament will become single-elimination.
Along with Silver Creek and Holy Family, No. 3 Niwot, No. 4 Longmont, No. 5 Mead all qualified for 4A state out of the BoCoPreps.com coverage area. The state championships will begin at 8 a.m. at the Denver Coliseum on Thursday and will conclude with the title match at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
In Class 3A, Prospect Ridge advanced to the state tournament for the first time in the program's history and defending 2A champion Lyons returns to state to defend its title as the 10th seed.
Local first-round matches
(5) Mead vs. (12) Berthoud, 9:30 a.m.
(4) Longmont has a bye
(3) Niwot has a bye
(7) Holy Family vs. (10) Silver Creek, 12:30 p.m.
(12) Prospect Ridge vs. (5) Valley, 9:30 a.m.
(10) Lyons vs. (7) Rye, 12:30 p.m.