David Ramsey: Lewis-Palmer volleyball slams its way to virtually flawless season

0
Photo - Lewis-Palmer celebrates after defeating Holy Family 3-0 in the 4A Colorado state volleyball tournament finals Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, at the Denver Coliseum.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Lewis-Palmer celebrates after defeating Holy Family 3-0 in the 4A Colorado state volleyball tournament finals Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, at the Denver Coliseum. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

DENVER - Everyone was happy after Lewis-Palmer stampeded to a three-set volleyball victory over Holy Family in the 4A state title match.

L-P's Rangers danced and shouted after their 25-10, 25-20, 25-21 victory, but their joy was expected. State champs are always dancing and shouting.

The surprise was Holy Family's reaction to the defeat. The Tigers celebrated, too, sprinting to the edge of the stands at Denver Coliseum holding their runner-up trophy high in the air.

This is not the norm. Losses in state title contests usually produce scenes with players sobbing on the court. You don't often see losers celebrating their defeat, but you don't often see a high school team as utterly dominant as the Rangers.

Holy Family coach Krista Solomon was smiling a few minutes after the loss.

"What a great team," she said of the Rangers. "It's fun to just play them."

She laughed.

"Win or lose."

No sports team is perfect, but the Rangers delivered a virtually flawless season. They roared to a 29-0 record, and lost only four sets on their march to state supremacy.

L-P players entered the season with what could have become a heavy burden. Anything less than a state title would have been a failure. These Rangers were expected to win L-P's third state title in four seasons.

"We have a tradition of excellence," said L-P coach Susan Odenbaugh. "Our players want to uphold the tradition."

But here's the uplifting truth about L-P's season: The Rangers managed, against all odds, to have a lot of fun in 2016. On Saturday night, the fun just kept right on going. The Rangers played with intensity, but they were laughing, too.

Holy Family made L-P work for its title. The Rangers pounded the Tigers in the first set and looked ready for a breezy 30-minute ride to the title. A Holy Family fan in the first row bellowed, "We made it to double digits!" when the Tigers hit 10 points in the first set.

But Holy Family revived. L-P's Michaela Putnicki and Lydia Bartalo were slamming the Tigers into oblivion, but Holy Family revived to make the match dramatic.

OK, slightly dramatic.

Odenbaugh knew pressure always was hovering over her Rangers. She took care all season to ease the tension.

"If you're feeling any pressure," Odenbaugh told her players Saturday morning, "it's because you're putting it on yourself."

L-P struggled, just a little, but quickly relaxed and found its rhythm.

These Rangers rank among the finest volleyball teams in America and among the most impressive high school teams in the Pikes Peak Region. And I'm talking any team from any sport from any era.

As the match ended, L-P students and parents were cheering their title team.

A few away, Holy Family students and parents were almost as happy.

The Tigers and their fans knew they had virtually no chance to rule Colorado. That's how dominant the Rangers were this season.