Simply qualifying for the State Volleyball Championships is in itself an honor.
Here in Colorado, the San Juan Basin League's best can attest to that.
As dominant as Dolores appeared at times in 2018, the Bears were unable to advance out of the 2A-Region VI Championships, while Dove Creek, which beat Dolores in a wild five-gamer back on Sept. 11, survived 1A-Region E only to go 0-2 inside the Denver Coliseum this past weekend with the CHSAA title in sight.
Despite a late-season surge with five wins in six matches, Ignacio failed to reach the postseason in Class 2A after prevailing just once in its final four outings while adjusting to life this fall without junior Morgan Herrera, who'd moved to Washington with her family before the 2018-19 school year began.
And who last weekend helped her new crew score the ultimate prize.
"She came to us having played both right side and outside and I remember her in our first summer scrimmage being a little timid and unsure of our system; I threw her out there to see what she could do," said Suzanne Marble, head coach of La Conner High School in Washington. "Morgan definitely added firepower to our team, not only in her play, but her enthusiasm and love of the game and her teammates."
Working onto a veteran Braves roster which had lost just two seniors from its 2017 edition, Herrera helped La Conner go 10-0 in the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association's 2B/1B Northwest and 17-2-1 overall in regular-season action. Herrera's mother Kathy, previously Ignacio Elementary School's principal, now serves as LCHS' athletic director as well as the Grade 5-12 assistant principal.
"The turning point where they started to understand that to win a championship, they needed to do the work!" said Marble. "We learned more.than we did all regular season in our league. We learned a lot about what we need to do physically and mentally to take it to the next level."
And Herrera proved key to the squad's doing so.
LCHS began the postseason hosting and going 2-0 at the six-team bi-district tournament, earning the trip to State with 3-0 sweeps of 2B/1B SeaTac members Seattle Lutheran and Auburn Adventist.
Traveling to the Yakima Valley SunDome for the state tourney, LCHS began with two victories last Thursday, Nov. 8. After surviving a five-game test (22-25, 25-18, 20-25, 25-21, 15-10) against Pasco Tri-Cities Prep in the semis on Day 2, La Conner ultimately earned the WIAA 2B State Championship 24-26, 25-22, 25-21, 25-11 over Mossyrock to cap their run through the 16-team bracket and finish the season 23-2-1 overall.
After logging nine kills and two blocks against Tri-Cities, Herrera booked four kills and six digs in the grand finale, and later received the WIAA Sportsmanship Award-which didn't come as a surprise to Coach Marble.
"Morgan played steady in the final," said Marble. "Although her stats don't tell the story, her attitude and heart say it all! he has that intense attitude that inspires others because she genuinely cares. She truly played the game with heart and passion - I would always have to tell her to settle just a little and be patient.to not slap my hand so hard when she came to a timeout or out of a game."
"One memory that will stay with me always is the final hug I got from Morgan as we were going through the line to shake Mossyrock's hands; it was the kind of hug like, 'Look what we just did!' The scared kid that came into our gym in late July to that confident, outgoing State Champion three months later!"