EDWARDS — It just ended so quickly.
Battle Mountain volleyball had reeled off 21 straight victories, including a quick dismissal of Canon City, 25-10, 25-17, 25-17, Saturday morning during the Region 5 Tournament, to put itself one match away from its first trip to the state tournament since 2007. In a mere 80 minutes or so, visiting Coronado abruptly ended the Huskies’ hopes in the de facto regional championship game, 25-20, 25-16, 25-13.
The Cougars are making their third trip in a row to the Denver Coliseum, while Battle Mountain is done.
“This is cool,” Coronado coach Don Lash said after he and his Cougars posed for the obligatory pictures with the championship plaque. “It’s a great group of girls. We have worked so hard to become a team, and it showed.”
Ironically, Battle Mountain, which finishes at 21-2, had done the same thing all year, but got overmatched in the end by a better Coronado squad.
“Look, losing’s always going to be difficult and hurt,” said Huskies coach Jason Fitzgerald, who has helped take Battle Mountain from the cellar to one match from state in his three years in Edwards. “This group has only experienced that once before. We opened the season with a loss and we closed the season with a loss, and they were winners in between. I couldn’t be prouder of them. They changed the culture of this program. They got our community behind us. It was a tough loss. Coronado played amazingly well. I think their experience in the playoffs is what finally overwhelmed us. For our girls, they worked their tails off to get where they were and to get this opportunity.”
Little things and big ones
This was actually a tight match in the first stanza. The Cougars and Huskies were tied at 16, 18 and 19. Coronado’s Annie McMillan got the key sideout with a kill, giving the Cougars (18-7) the serve. Julia Ward got Coronado cranking from behind the line for 22-19 lead when teammate Alexia Morey made a key play,
Morey, one of the Cougars’ big hitters, went up for a set she expected would be in the hit-me zone. Instead, the pass was short. Morey switched from her right hand, which was poised to smash the ball, to her left, tipping the ball over the net for the 23rd point of the game for Coronado.
“It just kind of happened,” Morey said. “I was expecting the set to be there. You just work with what you get. I got lucky getting that over.”
Lucky, perhaps, but good teams make their luck. Further, Coronado, the Colorado Springs Metro League champions, was simply superb on defense. The Cougars had blocks up on Battle Mountain’s big hitters such as LaRose Currie and Mackenzie Ellison. When the two Huskies’ outsides and others did get past the Coronado block, the Cougars dug the shots up and started sending them back the other way.
“Defense is our key. We live and breathe defense. We adapted really well. You’ve got one match (to watch another team),” said Lash, referring to being able to scout the Huskies a bit during the Battle Mountain-Canon City match. “You’ve got some time to go in there and work on things. We adapted well to what they have.”
While Coronado’s defense was stymieing the Huskies, the Cougars administered a healthy dose of Madison Brown, whose spikes seemed to scatter Battle Mountain. Coronado jumped out 6-0 and 8-1 leads in Games 2 and 3, and that was that.
Lash said that he expected the Cougars to draw the 12th and final seed in the state tournament. He’s probably right as Coronado entered regionals as the 20th-seed in 4A, and the only other upset was in Region 10, where No. 15 Pueblo West took down No. 10 Niwot to advance.
Meanwhile, the Huskies, who were ranked No. 5, were likely hurt by their postseason inexperience and their overly-lofty seed. The first is understandable — Battle Mountain hadn’t been here in six years, and the second was out of its control. While coach Fitzgerald admirably would not use his team’s schedule as an excuse during postgame, the reality is that the Huskies did not play a 4A-heavy nonconference slate.
Two notes here: First, the schedule was set two years in advance, so Battle Mountain couldn’t anticipate being a state contender in 2013 and adjust its matches accordingly. Second, the www.maxpreps.com poll takes opposing teams’ records into account, but not their classification — 1A, 2A and so on. Battle Mountain played five nonconference games before last weekend’s tournament at Summit County, losing to 4A Montrose and beating exclusively 3A or lower schools in the rest. At the Summit tournament, the Huskies did play 4A Denver North, but then ran into Eagle Valley and the host Tigers for the third time this season.
In retrospect, the www.maxpreps.com ranking was perhaps not entirely accurate in having Battle Mountain as the fifth team in the state. That said, there is no doubt that Battle Mountain volleyball is heading in the right direction.
Seniors Carly Cook, Alexis Medina, Currie, Tesha Olson and McKenna Fenton made their final appearance for Battle Mountain.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and email@example.com.