DENVER - The state volleyball tournament had proved too big for Colorado Springs School's volleyball in recent years.
As coach Kyong Lee put it, "we've gotten to state and just been scared."
Well, not anymore.
CSS was best with its back against the wall during Friday's pool play at the Denver Coliseum, as the Kodiaks swept Denver Christian and beat Lyons in five sets to advance to the Class 2A semifinals for the first time since 2008.
Laney Swan had 39 kills and 33 digs and Jaydi Starling added 27 and 15 for No. 4 CSS (25-2), which won the fourth and fifth sets against the fifth-seed Lions (19-7). Lily Whitbeck had the game-winner when her third ace of the match punched the top of the net and sank just under a dig attempt.
It was the first time all season the Kodiaks had played more than three sets in a match.
"We hadn't even played four sets," Lee cracked. "So when we went to four I was like 'Uh oh.' And then we went to five and I was like, 'This will be a great test to see how they do.'"
CSS will face No. 1 Dayspring Christian in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon.
Also in the semifinals: 4A No. 1 Lewis-Palmer and 3A No. 3 Colorado Springs Christian.
Finals for every classification begins at 7 p.m.
"We worked so hard all season and for the last three years to get here," Swan said. "We got our goal, we did it. I'm so proud."
CSS hoped things wouldn't end in pool play for the fourth straight year.
The Kodiaks loaded their schedule with 3A, 4A and 5A teams -- Lee said it was important for her team to struggle at times.
"We needed to play the better teams, the faster teams," Lee said. "And honestly, we needed to lose some."
Battle-tested CSS was ready for the big stage this time.
The Kodiaks overcame deficits of 18-14 and 24-22 to take a 25-24 lead in the third set, but Taylor Maguire's kill down the line and Jayla Harding's sensational dig on the final point put the Lions a set away from clinching.
CSS, though, had plenty of fight. On the back of its power hitters, Swan and Starling combined for 33 kills and 23 digs in the decisive match. And when it wasn't those two making plays, it was their teammates who were diving and sprinting on every ball.
The Kodiaks fell down 2-0 in the fifth on questionable calls that required meetings by the officials. Swan and Starling combined for five kills after that and CSS scored five of the last six points to celebrate.
"We were used to this atmosphere and knew what to expect," Starling said. "We were ready."