Titans push Tigers to five sets, fall just short
Looking to shake off Friday’s tough match against the Eaton Reds in the first round of the 3A volleyball state championship at the Denver Coliseum, the Coal Ridge Titans had a great chance to do just that on Saturday against the Sterling Tigers.
Clearly the underdog — at least in seedings — the Titans seemed to embrace the underdog role and fought hard against the Tigers, holding a 2-1 set lead before ultimately falling to Sterling in an intense five-set match inside the Coliseum by scores of 25-15, 14-25, 29-27, 19-25 and 13-15.
I think we fought hard,” Coal Ridge Head Coach Aimee Gerber said. “They beat us on a couple of places that we knew they were going to try and go after, so we overcompensated at times in one area and not the other. But overall I was really proud of the girls. They fought hard; we’ve never won two sets here, so it was nice to accomplish that, but we should have won that match. We were the underdog, so to go five sets and have it come down to just two points was big.”
In the first set against the Tigers, Coal Ridge got off to a hot start, racing out to a 6-3 lead as an ace from junior Santana Martinez and kills from seniors Kaitlyn Harlow and Nicole Mooney led the way. Following a quick timeout by Sterling, the Titans would extend the lead to 7-3 as Mooney came up with a big kill coming out of the timeout, but the Tigers would respond as Kylie Chavez came up with a block and a kill, while Lauryn Luft added a kill to close the deficit to 13-11.
Mooney would respond with a kill, sparking a 3-0 run that forced the Tigers to take a second timeout trailing 16-11.
Coming out of the second timeout, senior Dana Kotz came through wit a big kill before junior Cassie Greene added a kill of her own to make it 21-15 Titans. A big combination block from Greene and Harlow sealed the first-set win for the Titans over the Tigers.
Riding a positive wave of emotion following the first-set win, Coal Ridge came out slow in the second set and allowed Sterling to build an 8-5 lead as Chavez came up with a big block to stun the Titans. Trailing by three, Coal Ridge continued to trade points with the Tigers as Kotz added another kill to close the deficit to 11-8 later in the match, but Chavez and Luft proved to be too much at the net for the Titans as the duo picked up kills to make it 16-10 Sterling, forcing a Titan timeout.
Junior Paige Harlow came out of the timeout with a big kill at the net to spark the Titans, but a kill from McKinzie Davis and two kills from Kyndall Feather sealed the second-set win for Sterling.
Switching sides of the court for set three, Coal Ridge got back to its game as sophomore Kara Morgan came up with two big kills from the outside to break a 7-7 tie, giving the Titans a narrow 9-7 lead. Later in the match, Mooney would add a booming kill to stretch the Titan lead to 17-13, which then made things interesting in a thrilling third set.
Greene and Kaitlyn Harlow came up with back-to-back kills to make it 21-15 Coal Ridge in what looked to be a sure third-set win, but Sterling refused to go away as Luft came up with three big blocks down the stretch, while an ace from Sadie Holloway and a kill from Chavez tied the score at 25-25. From there, the two teams traded points before Greene came through with a big kill, leading to junior Emily Wright’s perfect ace to give the Titans a 29-27 win in the third set.
“I thought Cassie really did a good job today for us, giving us another big hitter on the outside,” Gerber said. “She did a really good job of doing a number of off-speed hits, and they were having trouble picking up our off-speed hits.”
With a 2-1 lead in sets, the Titans were on the verge of winning their first set ever in the state tournament, but the fourth set got out of hand midway through as Feather, Chavez and Luft took control, leading the Tigers to a 25-19 win, setting up the pivotal fifth set.
In the fifth and final set, Sterling got off to a great start racing out to a 6-3 lead as Luft and Chavez again controlled the net. Trailing by just three points, the Titans kicked it into gear as Kaitlyn Harlow came through with a big kill on a tip, while Mooney added a kill as well. Down 9-7 in the set, the Harlow sisters came up big for the Titans as Paige registered a kill at the net, leading to Kaitlyn’s ace on the ensuing serve, tying the set at 9-9, setting up a great finish.
Unfortunately for Coal Ridge, the Titans just ran out of room as a kill by Chavez ended the comeback attempt, stopping the Titans’ season down just two points.
Despite losing in five sets, the Titans put up some impressive individual numbers, led by Kotz, who led the way with 33 assists, 28 digs, six kills and three blocks in her final game as a Titan. Mooney added 17 kills and 15 digs, while Kaitlyn Harlow chipped in with seven kills, three blocks and two aces, turning in solid performances in their final games in the blue, black and white of Coal Ridge.
Outside of the three seniors, Wright played a great defensive game, registering 27 digs, while Martinez and junior Cheyanne Williams added 15 and nine digs, respectively.
Greene finished with six kills, while Paige Harlow and Morgan added four kills. Paige Harlow also recorded three blocks for the Titans. Greene added seven digs, while Morgan came up with four digs in the loss.
“I had a talk with the three seniors before the game as said, ‘you know, this is it. You need to play the best you’ve ever played and know that you couldn’t have done anything else and know that you tried your best’,” Gerber said. “I thought that they did just that; I felt that they led. It’s going to be really hard to lose all these seniors. But I told all of them that win or lose, if their effort matched a winning game, that I’d be proud of them no matter what. I wanted them to go out with their heads held high knowing that they fought hard.”
The loss in the state playoff tournament closes out Coal Ridge’s season with a record of 17-10, including a mark of 8-1 in the 3A Western Slope League, which was good for second overall behind the Delta Panthers. The Titans will have a great core of players returning next year under Gerber and her staff.
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