Wolverines’ three-peat bid falls short

Craig Harper
Posted

DENVER — You’d be hard-pressed to find a team that showed more resolve than Chaparral in the Class 5A state volleyball tournament, which helps to explain why the Wolverines were the two-time defending champions.

Though seeded third, coach T.R. Ellis’ team had to overcome an 11-7 fifth-set deficit in its opener against No. 10 Legend on Friday, then the loss of star player Abby Shelton during a first-set loss to No. 6 Cherokee Trail on Saturday just to reach the semifinals against No. 7 Grandview.

Not to mention a general size disadvantage against the top teams in the tournament, which eventually wore down the Wolverines in a 3-1 (25-20, 25-21, 19-25, 25-19) loss to the Wolves that ended their bid for a three-peat.

“We did (overcome a lot),’’ Ellis said. “To come back after Legend had us down 11-7 and to play (and win) without Abby against Cherokee Trail, a quality opponent, was amazing. And to even be in the semifinals without the towers that everyone else has … We have two (players who stand 5-11), and one of them was injured for most of the season and was just getting back.’’

Still, Chaparral finished the season 23-5 and won its third straight Continental League title outright before coming up short in its bid for a shot at a third straight state title.

“That would’ve really been something, because across the board we really didn’t have the height at the net that the top teams have,’’ Ellis said. “But we battled, and I’m really proud of the girls for fighting for every point even though we don’t have the tallest kids that teams like Grandview, Doherty and Cherry Creek have.’’

That competitive spirit was epitomized by Shelton, a senior outside hitter who has defied her 5-9 stature to become one of the state’s best players along with 5-10 Morgan Stanley. With her team trailing Cherokee Trail 14-13 in the first set Saturday, Shelton dislocated her left kneecap - an injury that she had suffered before, including once at practice this season.

After she helped Chaparral beat Legend 25-16, 25-22, 23-25, 19-25, 15-12, Shelton cheered her team to a 19-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-23 victory over Cherokee Trail from the bench. But she wasn’t about to miss what she hoped would be the final two games of her high school career. The kneecap was slid back into place and Shelton returned hours later and played the entire semifinal Grandview with a brace on the knee.

“I didn’t want to go out my senior year not playing,’’ Shelton said.

“We have depth on our team, but I’m really glad I had the opportunity to come back and play. When I hurt it, it was one of those things that you know how fortunate you are to have the opportunity to be able to play. When I got to go back out there, it was that much better.’’

Ellis said Shelton’s return provided her team with a big lift, though Grandview controlled the match with four 6-footers who combined for 42 of the Wolves’ 53 kills.

“She’s the heart and soul of our team,’’ Ellis said. “We have a lot of players that have a lot of energy, but she definitely is the heart and soul. They needed her in there to play, and I thought she did great. She got some quality hits and great serves. They were just better than us.’’

Down 23-16 in the second set, Chaparral scored five straight points before losing it by four. The Wolverines scored the last four points - including a kill and an ace by Shelton - to win the third but ran out of gas in the fourth.

“I definitely believe that we had the talent and ability to play in the championship match,’’ Shelton said.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t do it, but it doesn’t change the courage that our team has. I think we made it extremely far. I’m proud of every girl on my team and I love them all to death.’’

In addition to Shelton and Stanley, Ellis must replace setter Sarah Ellis along with two primary ballhandlers, Ahren Moydell and Maddie Thorpe.

“We don’t rebuild, we reload,’’ Ellis said. “Our varsity won the league and our JV won the league, and that’s a very tough, competitive league. We’ve got great players waiting in the wing.’’

After coming close to knocking off Chaparral in its first state tournament appearance, Legend was eliminated by Cherokee Trail 3-1 (16-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-22), though the Titans would have qualified for a three-way playoff for the pool’s berth in the semifinals if the Wolverines had lost to Cherokee Trail.

The Titans finished 18-8 and second in the Continental League with wins over Mountain Vista, Highlands Ranch and Heritage, which all qualified for the state tournament, and knocked off regional top seed and host Rocky Mountain 3-0 to make it to state.