On Tuesday night, the volleyball rivalry atmosphere between Colorado Springs Christian and host Manitou Springs was exactly what you would expect.
Loud cheers and a trilling whistle filled the green and gold gym as the two battled for 3A Tri-Peaks supremacy. CSCS was fighting for a chance at a league title, while the Mustangs were gripping the hope of a postseason berth.
And after a first-set win, it looked as though Manitou had a chance.
The Mustangs battled back from deficits in each of the four sets of Tuesday’s game, but fell 3-1 after winning the first set 25-22. The Lions claimed back-to-back 25-17 victories, then locked it away 25-18 in the final set.
In the fourth set, Manitou Springs tied the game five times and came back from a four-point deficit midway through. But after trading points and gaining a short three-point lead, a quick 4-0 run thanks to the work of libero Christine Ajayi behind the service line helped the Lions kept Manitou at bay.
“We’ve been working on trying to keep them from getting in their heads, and not letting it be a mental game,” CSCS coach Lori Currier said. “And tonight was the first time they’ve done that really well, and I was very excited to see that they were able to come back and focus on one point at a time.”
Ajayi, a former outside hitter, switched mindsets and emerged as the team’s go-to libero recently. She set the tone defensively in a competitive serve-receive battle with Manitou Springs. Ajayi led the team with 28 digs and also had three aces and a kill.
“I had to keep them focused and keep telling them, 'Next ball,' and keep them focused on the next ball,” Ajayi said. “It doesn’t matter that we're at 22 because we still have three more left.
“Christine is super steady and super consistent,” Currier said. “She’s been an outside hitter every year and I kind of feel bad taking her out of that position, but she is just great in the back row and and anchor in our back there, she’s just amazing.”
She said the transition was not difficult, though, after playing as a libero and defensive specialist on her former club volleyball team.
“Now I’m looking for more spots for my team to get the kill,” Ajayi said. “Because when you’re hitting, you don’t really see that, so when you’re back there you have to be the guide. I do miss hitting. It’s sad not to hit, but it’s cool to see the whole court from the back.”
The Lions were led by Christa Vogt with 14 kills, followed closely by Jubilee Diamond with 12. Vogt and Diamond each had two aces, while Jillian Francis led the team behind the service line with 4.
Colorado Springs Christian School moves to 12-6 and 10-1 in Tri-Peaks play with five games left in the regular season.
Manitou Springs falls to 9-8, and 7-3 in league play, but remains in fourth place behind the Lions in Tri-Peaks rankings.