The cliché sports question turned out to be the right question.
Were the No. 3 Palmer Ridge Bears peaking at the right time?
“I agree with that 110%,” coach Erica Bradley. “We had a little bit of a shaky start to our season. We went through some kinks and lineup changes and had to find the right overall chemistry. But we did.”
They needed every bit of that chemistry in their gut-churning, five-set victory (21-25, 25-21, 25-22, 17-25, 15-13) over No. 4 Thompson Valley in the Class 4A state championship match at the Denver Coliseum.
“It was stressful, for sure, especially that last set,” said senior Corrie Anderson, who’s headed to Dayton on a scholarship. “But whenever things got tight, we huddled, took some breaths and calmed each other down.”
Palmer Ridge took the back-and-forth fifth and deciding set, 15-13, as their vocal fans let loose with howls and screams.
The Eagles, chasing a rare three-peat, had not dropped a single set in the tournament entering Saturday night’s final. With their power game in synch, they beat the Bears, 25-21, in the first set. The Eagles were soaring.
But then it became a test of wills and strategy.
The Bears, playing a crafty game at the net with some quick chips, kept TV off-balance, and rallied to win the second set, 25-21. The Bears won the third set, too, 25-22. They looked on their way to dethroning the Eagles.
But in the fourth set, TV cut down on mistakes and rediscovered its power game in a 25-17 win to force the decider. Senior outside hitter Chloe Duzenack and junior middle blocker Tatum Sharp played a dominant set.
Thompson Valley junior setter Ashly Tafoya, who was the Class 4A player of the year last season, didn’t think the Eagles were squeezed by the pressure to three-peat.
“We weren’t thinking about that today,” she said after the Eagles beat Lewis-Palmer in the semifinals. “We just went into the tournament with the mindset that we are a tight team and we are going to win or lose as a team.”
TV’s only losses this season entering the championship game came against rival Windsor in the regular season, and against Class 5A powerhouse Valor Christian.
“Our girls really put a lot of pressure on themselves to be the best they can, but it wasn’t about the three-peat,” TV coach Lester Thorn said. “Honestly, this is really a very special, very unique group of girls. Their motivation comes from within and to be their best and win every time they step on the court.”
At a Colorado State summer camp, Palmer Ridge scrimmaged TV. That convinced Bradley that her girls could compete with the defending champions.
“We matched up pretty good,” she said. “We played them very tight. I know that both teams have gotten significantly better since then but that was exciting to see that we could hang with a championship team.”
And in the end, it was the Bears who came through with the final two clutch points of the night.
“We played one of the toughest schedules in the state, so that prepared us,” Bradley said. “And we played a handful of five-setters so we knew how to handle that. Our mental and physical endurance has been tested over and over, so I would say that’s why everything came together at just the right time.”
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