CARBONDALE, Colorado - When Roaring Fork qualified for the state volleyball tournament in 2010, it had been 20 years since the Rams had advanced that deep into the postseason.
"Two years ago, they hadn't been to state since before the girls were born," head coach Carrie Shultz relayed. "That was a huge accomplishment."
Well, Shultz and company are headed back to Denver a mere two years later. By winning Saturday's 3A Region 11 tournament in Carbondale, Roaring Fork earned the right to the Denver Coliseum for the 12-team state tourney. Play runs Friday and Saturday.
And the goals are much different this time around.
"Now, since a lot of these players have been there before, we want to take it a step further," Shultz said. "We want to get some wins down there and bring home some hardware."
The Rams didn't get a win in 2010, losing to Eaton, Colorado Springs Christian and University in a brief stay.
"We feel more prepared now," senior Caitlin Kinney said. "We're familiar with the surroundings, having been there before. ... The first time was such a good experience. Now, to come back with my own team and be starting, it's going to be an even better experience. I can't wait."
Balance is the calling card of the 2012 Rams, who boast big hitters and blockers and a scrappy defense that seems to dig most everything.
"I think that's one of our biggest assets," senior Madison Handy said. "We're so well-rounded. We have a great setter, great hitters and we also have a great defense to back it up. I feel like that really helps us out a lot. We have a great team. We're all willing to work really hard, not only for the program, but we want to win for each other and ourselves."
Roaring Fork (22-3) opens pool play against Platte Valley (19-6) on Friday in Class 3A's fifth match of the day. That will probably come at some point in the early afternoon. The Rams will then face defending state champion Eaton (19-6) in the day's seventh match.
To make Saturday's semifinals, teams must win their three-team pool.
While some scouting will be done, Roaring Fork will focus inward as it prepares for its trip over the mountains.
"We're mostly planning on just playing to our potential and focusing on ourselves," Kinney said. "I think that really helped us this weekend [at regionals]."
Whatever happens in Denver, the Rams have built something special at the tiny mountain school.
"Girls are really interested in playing volleyball," Handy said. "Seeing the success of the team two years ago and the success of this team really builds up the enthusiasm to play. And then we have a great coaching staff that builds up the abilities at every level. We're lucky to have such a great program."
Shultz, who played college volleyball at the University of Pittsburgh and later served as an assistant coach at Duquesne University before moving to the Roaring Fork Valley, credits the dedication of her players with helping build a successful program.
"When they're younger in the program, they see the varsity players and really want to do that and to be on that team," she explained. "I think that focus keeps it going within the program, and certainly these kids like to play a lot of volleyball in the offseason. They do a ton of doubles tournaments in the summer. They're just gym rats. Some of that I lucked out a little bit with."
Regardless of how it came to be, volleyball is clearly thriving at Roaring Fork.