Cheyenne Mountain volleyball embraces unfamiliar role

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This is entirely new ground for Cheyenne Mountain’s volleyball team, the perennial favorite and gold standard for more than a decade.

The underdog.

“I love it,” said David Barkley, the Indians’ coach whose squads have won six state championships and hosted regional play every year since he arrived in 2004. “Every year when we were ranked No. 1, I was hoping not to be ranked No. 1. I’d rather be the one clawing their way back up. It’s easier to motivate your team that way.”

On Saturday, Barkley gets his wish, although not quite by design, when his No. 26-ranked Indians (8-15) travel north to host and seventh-seeded Thomas Jefferson to meet the Denver-based Spartans and No. 14 Glenwood Springs.

“We’ve never traveled for regionals,” Barkley said. “We’ve been top four every year since I’ve been here. This year has been a different experience.”

On Monday, the brackets for this weekend’s regional tournaments were unveiled. The top 36 teams in 3A-5A, based on the Ratings Percentage Index, were placed into 12, three-team tournaments hosted by the lowest seed, while 2A and 1A are down to 24 teams with eight tournaments in each.

Locally, Coronado (6) earned the right to host a 5A regional, as did Lewis-Palmer (1), the defending 4A state champ, along with its cross-town rival Palmer Ridge (5).

All regional winners advance to the state tournament, Nov. 10-11 in the Denver Coliseum.

So, for Cheyenne Mountain, with as many setbacks this season as the previous three combined, a first trip to Denver would have to precede another to keep the streak alive.

With only three seniors and one returning starter back from the 2016 squad, Barkley knew his team was in for an uphill climb this season. A season-ending knee injury in September to junior setter Claire Kokot only exacerbated the situation.

On top of that, Cheyenne Mountain played the fourth-toughest schedule in 4A, a product of last year’s squad that featured seven seniors.

Still, here they are, playing for state as the fifth team out of the 4A/5A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference, joining L-P, Palmer Ridge, Air Academy and Discovery Canyon.

“We’re still improving and getting better,” Barkley said. “If things go right, we have a shot to go back. A season like this was bound to happen, and it does humble you. I don’t like losing, but this is not going to be the measure of this season. It won’t be easy to beat either of our opponents on Saturday, but we sure can compete with them, for sure.”

REGIONAL VOLLEYBALL

Who’s in from Pike Peak region:

5A: *Coronado (6), Rampart (15), Palmer (18), Liberty (24), Pine Creek (28)

4A: *Lewis-Palmer (1), *Palmer Ridge (5), Discovery Canyon (18), Air Academy (22), Cheyenne Mountain (26), TCA (31), Widefield (32), Canon City (33)

3A: CSCS (21), Manitou Springs (25), St. Mary’s (31), Florence (35)

2A: Calhan (District 8 runner-up), Colorado Springs School (District 8 third place)

*-Tournament host