DENVER – History built upon. An unprecedented 58-game winning streak still alive. The Merriam-Webster word of the day? Valorous, meaning to show great courage in the face of danger. No, seriously.
Danger was faced, especially down the stretch, but in many ways, as Saturday’s CHSAA 5A State Volleyball Championship was No. 1 Valor Christian’s to lose. No way they’d let it happen, even after struggling and losing two sets against No. 7 Fossil Ridge.
For an undefeated team, which has only lost five sets all season leading up to the title game, adverse moments have come few and far between. Unphased by the idea, the Valor Christian Eagles came back from down three points late in the fifth set to capture their second-straight 5A championship, 21-25, 25-16, 25-13, 19-25, 15-12.
They become the sixth team to ever win back-to-back Colorado 5A titles.
“You start a season in August, and you build a group of people who truly love each other and are so darn unselfish,” Valor head coach Jayne McHugh said. “And the results kind of take care of themselves. That’s what we sought out to do on August 8th, the first day of tryouts. We brought a group together who was going to be unselfish and love each other, and they did it.”
It was only the third time this season the Eagles had lost the first set of a match, the second time during the tournament. When a team is on a winning streak of Valor’s nature, a giant target naturally falls on that team’s back, as opponents tend not to have as much to lose.
Because of that, the pregame message was simple from McHugh: bask in it, then let it go.
“You just have to embrace it, you can’t run from it and you can’t be angry about it,” McHugh said. “You’ve got to embrace it and can’t let it affect how you help your teammates. It’s got to be about giving to everybody else all the time, and that helps take all the pressure and that target right off your back.”
As might be expected, the pressure can mount anyway, especially for seniors who know they’re playing in their final game.
Eagles senior Grace Langer, who had double digit kills in the match, certainly felt the stress, but recalled her team’s culture of playing for each other, manifested it and embodied it, despite the test of playing for her school’s third 5A title.
“I think it’s different because it’s a different environment, but I have the same people,” Langer said. “But when I can trust my teammates and when I can depend on them, even if I’m not feeling like my super confident self, I can turn to Chloe (Elarton) or Delaney (Russell) or Kenzey (McGatlin) or really anybody on the team, and they’ll step up and help get us there.”
Russell, another Eagles senior who recorded double-digit kills, stood front and center with her teammates as they posed with the 5A State Championship banner. With damp eyes and an enormous smile, she held the trophy for one last time on a high school court.
For Russell, it meant the world to be able to share that moment, as well as all those which came before it, with her teammates.
“It means everything,” Russell said. “These girls mean everything to me, they’re my best friends. To think that I’m leaving them is really hard, but I’m so glad we could end it off like we did.”