PARKER - Lutheran High School was stunned into committing not just one, but two play-stopping violations late in Game 2 of regional play on Saturday.
After seeing BHS' Mavis Edwards sweep clean the court from middle to line with a play-prolonging, stomach-first dive and dig, Lutheran's players realized they'd have to ramp up their own resolve to such a level in order to reach the season's final phase.
"They were ranked second," BHS senior Kylee McCoy said, referring to LHS' standing in the final regular-season RPI index, used to seed Class 3A's top 36 squads into a dozen 3-team brackets. "They were going to play lower teams, and honestly, regionals for them should have been a breeze."
"We walked in this gym and watched a little bit of Florence-Lutheran," head coach Danica Frost added, alluding to the afternoon's first contest (won 25-11, 25-8, 25-11 by LHS), "and we knew we could compete. We knew we could."
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, reinvigorated after dropping Game 1 of last Friday's Region II finale to LHS, 25-16, the hosting, Parker-based locals rose above the challengers.
Getting a line kill from senior Tori Bjorgum, and then both a scoring block and kill from junior Abby Akers to ultimately swipe Game 2, 26-24, Lutheran denied Bayfield (23rd in the RPI; Florence was 35th) again in the clinching Game 3.
Following an ace serve by BHS reserve Lana McKee, Alicia Oates called timeout with her Lions down 25-24. The pause appeared more to give them a chance to breathe than anything else; there was little doubt which one would be central in crunch time.
Unfortuantely, 6'2" middle Payton Brgoch then tied the score with a soft tip.
She then gave LHS their first chance at completing the sweep with a block of McCoy, but sophomore Kennedey Johnson then netted the potential winning hit. Even at 26-all, Brgoch then somehow placed a tip over a double block, and 5'9" senior Mary Dyson then stoned McCoy 1-on-1 to bring the evening to a close.
"I think we are a contender. We just need to keep working and stay focused; next week's going to be fun," Brgoch said after the 28-26 finish. "And props to Bayfield; they're a good team! Whether it was a triple or double, they had a really strong block; it played good for them."
"It was definitely tough," said BHS senior Ashley Mottin, responding to how facing 4A Colorado Springs Discovery Canyon's 6'5" Ashten Prechtel (at the Palmer Ridge Invitational in Monument) a week earlier readied Bayfield for Brgoch. "She's a big girl, but we just put everything we had out there and tried our hardest."
"Because Payton is a big contributor to our team, we knew that Bayfield was watching her," Johnson said, explaining Lutheran's Game 1 win in which Brgoch's impact was minimal. "So using her like a decoy, to get our outsides a one-on-one block really gave them an opportunity to get a kill."
Still, Bayfield wasn't giving up without a fight.
"I know that was scary for them when we got up to 26, when we were really trying for that game," said McCoy. "We wanted it so bad, really put our whole heart into that-I definitely think they didn't see that coming!"
"They played fierce!" Frost stated, also saluting Bayfield's 25-11, 25-17, 25-8 dismantling of Florence (15-10 overall). "They did not let up; they went down swinging. Super proud of those kids."
McCoy finished with 11 kills against LHS and Mottin eight. With senior Courtney Bayles booking 32 assists, senior Sydney Gabbard and sophomore Tess Phelps each put down five kills and Edwards managed four as BHS hit .196 collectively.
Junior libero Tymbree Florian came up with 11 digs, while Gabbard recorded 10 and McCoy eight to go along with three total blocks. Bayles had seven digs, while Mottin denied four Lutheran attacks, three by herself, and Phelps assisted on three stuffs.
"Really, it was about being here, fully committing to what we're doing and whoever it is we're playing for," Frost continued. "Whether it's for the seniors or for each other-for Jade (Pascale, senior)-it was really about being completely present in this gym tonight."
With 11 kills against FHS, McCoy again paced the Wolverines offensively. Mottin was right behind with 10 and Bayles, while totaling another 32 assists, put down six at an awesome .857 clip. BHS finished at .224 overall for the match, with Edwards slamming down four kills, Phelps three and Gabbard two.
Defensively, Mottin totaled five blocks (three solo) and Phelps four (two solo) as the Huskies managed just eight total kills, led by senior Brittany Cornella's three. Florian came up with 17 digs, Gabbard and Edwards each registered a dozen, and Bayles six.
"We had a lot of confidence going in, really believed in ourselves and wanted to get that upset so bad. We wanted to go to State," McCoy said. "Coming in, seeing Lutheran play against Florence, we were like, 'We've played teams like this!' Like, 'This is another Pagosa (Springs)!' But they weren't. I think they played a great game, and I hope that they do good at State."
The Wolverines finished 14-11 overall in Frost's first season directing the varsity, and the skipper's eagerness to improve was evident in conversation as the Lions' Den emptied.
"It's a gift to play these kids that have been coached by Terene (Foutz), that have impeccable skills," she said. "But it's also huge motivation to start the offseason-I'm so excited standing here right now, just thinking. We brought up here two freshmen as managers, and I want to get in the gym with them and grow them! And quite a few of our girls are going to play club, which is so beneficial."
Coming off the bench, junior Jannika Pope contributed four digs against Lutheran, and junior April Chamblee three. Pope also had five digs versus FHS.
"I just hope they all stick with it and they all stay together, fight for next year," Mottin said.
"I feel like if they show up and stay committed to this sport, they'll be really good," agreed McCoy. "It's a matter of wanting to do it."
CROWD CONTRIBUTION: If one had to choose an x-factor in Lutheran's survival, one couldn't argue against the efforts of the Lions' fellow students spilling out of the stands.
"I love our crowd," said Brgoch, "and when they're yelling.it's so much fun to play in."
Bayfield's players, their names chanted in a myriad of distracting manners, thought differently.
"It was definitely tough," grinned Mottin. "It's very loud and hard to focus."
"When we were serving, they were screaming in our ear and it was so hard!" McCoy concurred. "You can't even think of anything else-you're like, 'Man, I hope my arm even hits this ball!' It's rough."
"So difficult. That was, like, a taste of how our 'Rowdy Crowd' is," she noted. "Like, I genuinely feel bad for other schools that play us now-I can relate to them!"