Panthers knock off Titans, ending 3A state tournament bid
The best season in Coal Ridge volleyball history came to a heartbreaking end Friday night at Coal Ridge High School in the 3A Region 12 championship game where the No. 13 Middle Park Panthers swept the No. 12 Titans by scores of 28-26, 25-7 and 25-18, clinching a spot in the 3A state tournament next weekend at the Denver Coliseum. The loss ends the Titans’ season at 21-4, which was good enough for the best record in school history, as well as a 9-0 record in the 3A Western Slope League and a second league championship under head coach Aimee Gerber in three years.
“I just told the girls how proud I was of them after the game,” Gerber said. “To finish 21 and 4, to have the best season that Coal Ridge has ever had, they have nothing to hang their heads about. They ought to be proud. If we were going to lose, we wanted it to be at home. For some of these girls who’ve been here three years, this is the first time they’ll miss the state tournament, and that’s real gut-wrenching right now. But this group of girls is just a class act. I get around other teams and I realize how special our girls are; they have good sportsmanship and they’re classy. I’m just real proud of them.”
In the main event of the night, the Titans looked to reach a third straight state tournament under Gerber, but first they’d have to get past the Panthers.
That proved to be the tallest task the Titans faced all season as the two teams put on a show in the first set of the night, battling back and forth in an impressive display of high-level volleyball from both sides.
The Panthers raced out to an early 11-5 lead on the Titans’ court, but Coal Ridge stayed focused, battling back from a 17-10 deficit to tie the game at 21-all thanks to two big combination blocks from freshman Taylor Wiescamp and junior Kenzie Crawford, as well as junior Alexa Wiescamp and senior Paige Harlow, igniting the home crowd in a packed gymnasium in New Castle.
Locked up at 21-all late in the set, the Titans and Panthers traded point after point before the Titans took brief 25-24 and 26-25 leads on a block from Taylor Wiescamp and a tip from Crawford, but the Panthers bounced back strong both times, picking up the first-set win 28-26 on two kills from senior middle hitter Bailey Martin.
After dropping the intense first set, Coal Ridge appeared to come out flat in the second set and started to second guess themselves, allowing the Panthers to jump all over them, rolling to a 25-7 second-set win, putting the Titans on the brink of elimination.
“We let them get in our heads and they got a couple quick blocks that they didn’t do in the first game,” Gerber said. “We just got back on our heels. We’re not good at playing catch-up; we told them that all year. They were a very aggressive, tough team and have some really good hitters. We had some fluke plays that didn’t go our way tonight.”
Trailing 2-0, the Titans put together one last shot at keeping their season alive, jumping out to a 7-3 lead in the third set, but the Panthers rallied to tie it a 9-all before then pulling away for the 25-18 win, stunning the Titans on their home floor.
Prior to the tough loss to Middle Park, the Titans took it to the Manitou Springs Mustangs in the first match of the night.
Against No. 25 Manitou Springs in the first match of the day in the 3A regional bracket, the Titans and Mustangs battled back and forth in a tightly-contested four-set match, but Coal Ridge ultimately prevailed with the win, coming out of top by scores of 25-21, 25-23, 21-25 and 25-19.
Coal Ridge — well-rested after a tough close to the regular season — stormed out of the gate in the first set, racing out to a 6-1 lead as Harlow picked up a tip over the Mustangs’ front line, while senior outside hitter Cassie Greene blasted a kill past the Manitou defense, forcing a quick Mustang timeout.
A serving error on Coal Ridge coming out of the break made it 7-2 Coal Ridge before a thunderous kill from Taylor Wiescamp made it 8-2 Coal Ridge. Manitou wouldn’t go away quietly though as the Mustangs fought back to make it 8-7 as a kill from junior McKayla Curry and freshman Mahlia Glass flipped the script for the Mustangs.
Manitou then took a slight 9-8 lead off of a net violation on Coal Ridge before block at the net by Wiescamp tied it a 9-all, foreshadowing a tough battle to come in the first set.
Later tied at 12-all, Coal Ridge started to pull away for the first-set win as a kill from Greene, an ace from senior Santana Martinez and another kill from Greene gave the Titans a 19-15 lead, forcing another Manitou timeout.
The Titans then went on to finish off the set as a tip from Wiescamp and a long volley from Manitou gave the Titans the first-set win.
In the second set, Manitou returned the favor, racing out to a 5-1 lead, but the Titans roared right back, taking a 9-8 lead as tips from Harlow and Crawford led the way, forcing a Manitou timeout.
The two teams continued to trade point-for-point, sitting deadlocked in a tie at 14-all before a combination block from Crawford and Wiescamp jump-started the Titans’ attack.
Manitou made it close late, battling back to within one point at 21-20, but kills from Greene and Wiescamp and another long volley from the Mustangs finished off the game in the Titans’ favor.
Trailing 2-0 in the match, the Mustangs found their footing against the Titans. Although the Mustangs found themselves trailing 15-10 midway through the match, they were able to take over late, going on a 10-6 run to win the set, forcing a pivotal fourth set.
In the fourth set, Coal Ridge came out red-hot, racing out to a 9-2 lead as Martinez caught fire serving, recording four early aces, forcing a Manitou timeout. Following the timeout, Coal Ridge kept their foot on the gas, stretching the lead to 13-4 before the Mustangs put together a mini comeback, pulling to within two at 15-13 before the Titans put them away late as Harlow picked up the deciding kill for match point, setting up a night matchup with the No. 13 Middle Park Panthers.
With the loss to Middle Park, Coal Ridge’s season comes to an end. The Titans will undoubtedly have a few players make the 3A Western Slope League All-Conference team, which should be announced next week.
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