3A VOLLEYBALL STATE PREVIEW

Three schools have combined to win the last 12 state championships in Class 3A and those three teams hold down the top three seeds in the bracket again this year.  Eaton is the three-time defending state champion and has combined with #2 Valley to win the last six titles overall.  3rd seeded Colorado Springs Christian dominated the class before the current stretch winning six consecutive crowns from 2004-09.

The tournament opens this Friday with pool matches getting underway at 8:00am and you can watch the entire tournament through NFHSNetwork.com.  You can also follow the tournament online by clicking on the schedule/scores tab within the volleyball section.

POOL 1

#1 Eaton (23-2)

#8 Sterling (20-5)

#12 Coal Ridge (17-8)

As three-time defending state champions, Eaton is heavily favored to advance from pool play and into the semifinal round.  The Reds have not lost to a 3A team since the 2013 when they were knocked off by Manitou Springs in the regular season; a loss they avenged in the state finals later that year.  This season, the Reds opened the season with a four set loss to 4A #1 Lewis Palmer and didn’t lose again until falling to 5A Chaparral at the Cheyenne Mountain Tournament.  Eaton also downed 5A #1 seed Fossil Ridge and went through the rugged Patriot league slate without a loss.  That conference has six teams in the state tournament field.

Eaton senior Tarynn Sieg has seen varsity minutes since her freshman season and is four wins away from finishing her career as a four-time state champion.  Sieg leads the team with 373 kills this year and has 1,029 for her career.  Two other seniors, Isabel Noonan (110) and Ashton Reese (104) have also reached over 100 kills this year and can join Sieg as a four-time state champion.  In between that group is sophomore Makenzie Harris with 265 kills.  Junior Chelsea Lockey is shooting for her third state title and leads the team with 794 assists.

Sterling is in the tournament for a fifth straight year but has not been able to break through into the semifinals and being placed in the same bracket with Eaton will make that task difficult again this year.  The Tigers have three wins over teams in a state tournament as they downed Yuma, Platte Valley and Resurrection Christian in the regular season.  Four of their five losses are against teams in a state bracket to Silver Creek, Valley, Eaton and University.  The fifth loss came against Green Mountain.

Senior Kylie Chavez (254 kills) by the weekend will have played in four state volleyball tournaments and three state basketball tournaments so she won’t be intimidated by the big arena.  Kyndall Feather (195) and Jaycie Dillenburg (160) are the next two hitters with Lauryn Luft fourth on the team with 146.  The Tigers have 247 aces as a team with Feather leading the way with 75.  Dillenburg has 48 and Luft 45.  Feather is the top setter (472 assists) but shares some of those duties with Jessica Holloway (226).

Coal Ridge ended up second behind Delta in the Western Slope chase and earned a trip to the state tournament by beating Faith Christian (3-1) in Arvada to win the regional tournament last week.  The Titans do have eight losses overall but only three are against teams in Class 3A (Delta, Valley & Alamosa).

Six Titans have at least 97 kills this season so balance is their strength.  Nicole Mooney leads the chart with 220 kills and Kaitlyn Harlow is next with 163.  Kara Morgan (119), Paige Harlow (111), Dana Kotz (100) and Cassie Greene (97) also get their chances.  The same balance can be found at the service as Harlow (47), Mooney (42), Kotz (36) and Greene (30) all contribute.  Kotz directs the attack with 630 assists.

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POOL 2

#2 Valley (20-5)

#7 Middle Park (24-1)

#11 Platte Valley (12-13)

Valley finished third behind Eaton and University in the Patriot conference but still earned the number two seed based on their overall body of work.  The schedule has been a good one with quality losses to Montrose, Pueblo West and University to go along with two setbacks to Eaton.  Despite those losses, the Vikings could be the top challenger to Eaton as they’re playing for the final time under Coach Rene Aafedt.  The long time and very successful head coach is stepping down after the tournament and her players would like nothing better to win a third state championship for her.  They have four championships overall including 2010 and 2012 under Aafedt.  They’ll enter the tournament riding a seven match winning streak.

In their quest for the state championship, the Vikings will lean heavily on the senior tandem of Brooke Schilling (305 kills) and Ashlyn Martinez (246).  One of those two has led the Vikings in kills in every match this year.  Depth is provided by talented freshman Delaney Eckhardt (124) and junior Jordan Loper (110).  Halie Diederich is the top setter (612 assists) and server (46 aces).

Middle Park last made the state tournament in 2013 and went 0-2 in pool play that year.  The Panthers are again the Frontier conference champions and this year stretched their league winning streak to 39 matches.  Their last loss came against Bennett on October 12th, 2013.  Their only loss overall this year came against D’Evelyn (2-0) at the Jaguars Tournament at mid-season.

Balance at the net has carried the Panthers back into the state tournament as no player has more than 180 kills on the season.  Bailey Martin leads the hit list with 170 kills but she’s followed closely by Kiera Barr (149), Harley Phillips (122) and Maddie Eichler (103).  Morgan Shaw (97) should become the fifth Panther in triple figures for kills during the state tournament.  Layne Neiberger, with 603 assists, directs the attack.

Seeded 26th in the 36-team regional bracket, Platte Valley is easily the lowest seed still challenging for the state championship.  They opened the regional tournament by beating Salida on their home court and then clinched a state berth by outlasting Lutheran in their second match.  Despite the low seed, it’s not a surprise to see Platte Valley advance as they have a very rich volleyball history including a state best 14 championships.  Their last crown came in 2003.  The Broncos went 6-4 in the Patriot league to finish fifth.

At the net, the Broncos are led by a pair of sophomores who will gain valuable experience in Denver this weekend.  Annika Zenk tops the team in kills (188) and Faith Fetzer (147) is next.  Seniors Cammi Hawkins (122) and Kylie Sharp (110) have also done their part along with junior Jacey Reinert (102).  Maddie Uyemura (609 assists) is the top setter.

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POOL 3

#3 Colorado Springs Christian (21-4)

#6 Resurrection Christian (19-6)

#10 Delta (20-5)

This is the only pool in Class 3A to feature two league champions as Colorado Springs Christian landed the Tri Peaks title and Delta was the winner of the Western Slope.  Resurrection Christian finished only sixth in the Patriot league but as mentioned it’s by far the best conference in 3A with six state tournament qualifiers coming from there.  The Cougars also have plenty of experience at the Denver Coliseum winning 2A state crowns in 2013 and 2014 and also reaching the state finals last year before bumping to the 3A division this season.

Colorado Springs Christian played a very good schedule this year with quality wins against University in early September and Thomas Jefferson late last month.  In between are losses to Eaton and Valley in Class 3A along with Chatfield and Coronado from Class 5A.  The Lions were not pushed in regionals as they moved past Brush and Prospect Ridge with relative ease.

In crunch time, the Lions have turned to Christine Ajayi (299 kills) and Bailey Scott (283) to finish points.  Christa Vogt, with 164 kills, provides a third option up front.  Feeding that trio is senior Cassie Davis who has a whopping 911 assists this year and nearly 36-hundred for her career.  She also has a team best 83 aces and Scott has 76.

Resurrection Christian did not drop a set either in moving past Peak to Peak and Alamosa in the regional tournament.  The two victories stretched their winning streak to eight matches since a five set loss to 2A #1 Dayspring Christian.

Coach Caleb Howard has several options at the net as Kyra Zuhlke (202 kills), Keighan Miller (176) and Morgan Watson (167) each get plenty of swings.  Senior Saylor Webb is playing in her fourth straight state tournament has 650 of the team’s 679 assists.  The Cougars have five players with at least 34 aces with Megan McDaniel topping the list at 46.

Delta joined Platte Valley and league rival Coal Ridge as road winners in regionals last week.  They downed Kent Denver and host St Mary’s in Colorado Springs to reach the state tournament in their first year as a 3A program.  The Panthers competed in the 4A bracket until dropping down a class before this season.  Their most important win before then came in five sets against Coal Ridge on September 24th as that victory handed them the league championship.  Only two of their five losses overall are against 3A teams (Salida and Pagosa Springs) with others suffered against Palisade, Erie and Montrose.

Emily Baier is the number one option at the net for the Panthers as she enters the tournament with 338 kills, over three times more than either Dani Sakala (110) or Lexi Quinn (104).  Five players have served at least 35 aces with Harlee Roberts (52) at the top of the list.  Setting duties are handled by Emily Nortnik with 617 assists.

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POOL 4

#4 University (19-6)

#5 Bayfield (22-3)

#9 Pagosa Springs (20-5)

The University-Bayfield match on Friday could be the best pool match in the tournament as that winner, if they both beat Pagosa Springs, will decide who may challenge Eaton in the state semifinals Saturday afternoon.  University is maybe the most battle tested team in the field as 15 of their 25 matches have been against teams that have qualified for a state tournament.  They have wins over Yuma, Valley, Sterling, Resurrection Christian, Montrose, Legend and Platte Valley (twice).  Losses have come against Colorado Springs Christian, Lewis Palmer, Pueblo West, Cherry Creek and Eaton (twice).

Senior Katie Potter leads the Bulldogs offense with 292 kills but Aracely Hernandez, Danya Schuessler and Madelyn Malm all have at least 133 in support.  The Bulldogs have served 162 aces including 38 from Potter while sophomore Alexsie Viera tops the team with 608 assists.

Despite all their tradition, Bayfield was not ranked in the top 10 to open the season but 22 wins later the Wolverines are the number five seed in the 3A bracket.  They captured another Intermountain League championship and now have won that title every year since 2008.  Over those years, the Southwest Colorado powerhouse is 71-2 in league matches.  They’re also unbeaten against 3A opponents this year with losses coming against 4A tournament members Lewis Palmer and Niwot along with Piedra Vista NM.

Madi Foutz is the top hitter with Bayfield with 215 kills but the junior trio of Jade Pascale (179 kills), Kylee McCoy (148) and Sydney Gabbard (107) have all contributed at the net this year.  A fourth junior, Ashley Mottin needs just one kill at the state tournament for 100 on the season.  Foutz also leads the team in aces (53) and Courtney Bayles is the top setter with 680 assists.

Pagosa Spring is the forgotten team in this pool but the Pirates won 20 matches and are in the tourney for a third straight year.  They’re still looking for their first tournament win in that stretch as they’ve gone 0-2 in pool matches each of the last two years.  They topped Weld Central and Rye to win the regional tournament last week and four of their five losses on the season are against teams in Denver this weekend; Valley, Delta and Bayfield (twice).

Faith Ahlhardt and Megan Farrah are back to lead the Pirates on offense as they have 253 and 249 kills respectively.  Morgan Lewis is the third option with 121 and Taylor Jones has 106.  Lewis also spends time as setter and leads the Pirates with 293 assists and freshman Teagan Stretton has provided 286.

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