A young and scrappy McClave High School volleyball team proved they could compete against the best-of-the-best in the three-day Class 1A State Colorado Volleyball Championships held on Nov. 11-12 at the Denver Coliseum.
The Lady Cardinals fell one match short of playing for the state championship after they were eliminated in a three-set sweep in the semifinals by the eventual state champion Merino Rams on Saturday.
Merino went on to defeat Fleming to claim its third straight state crown.
The Rams defeated the rival Wildcats 25-17, 25-21, and 25-14 for the state title.
The win avenged a 3-2 loss to Fleming in the state quarterfinals.
It marked the first three-peat in Class 1A volleyball team since Flagler High School won the championship from 1994-1996.
McClave head coach Melissa Steinbrunn had nothing but praised for what her young team accomplished this season and at the state tournament.
“These girls are something special,” she lauded. “A loss at the end of the season doesn’t reflect the entirety of their time together. They had a fantastic ride with a 26-2 record, and I couldn’t be more proud of them and what they accomplished this year. Thank you seniors for your time on this team, you helped build something amazing. This is only the beginning, girls. Love you all.”
In the state semifinals, McClave fell to the Rams by the scores of 25-19, 25-13, and 25-18.
Merino outhit the Lady Cardinals 43 kill to 27 kills in the match.
The Rams were fueled by their outstanding junior hitter Makenna Sutter who pounded out 20 kills. Freshman Kya Piel followed with 10 kills.
Piel also led her team with 22 digs and Sutter had 18. Sophomore Veronica Baray had 14 digs, sophomore Brooklyn Sutter had 13 digs, freshman Jaylyn Lynch had 12, and freshman Jadelynn Powell had 9.
Brooklyn Sutter dished out 36 assists.
McClave’s hitting attack was sparked by freshman Abrielle Gomez with 10 kills, junior McKayla Kiniston followed with 8, and senior Mariah Enciso had 7.
Kierra Coen, a sophomore, had 6 blocks and Gomez had 5.
Sophomore McKayla Phillips distributed 24 assists.
In the back row, McClave finished with 121 digs compared to 89 for Merino.
Kiniston led the way with 24 digs, senior Kennedy Vallejos was right behind with 21. Coen added 17 digs, freshman Ashlynn Steinbrunn had 17, Phillips 17, Gomez 13, and Enciso 10.
McClave drew a bye in the first round of the tournament on Thursday.
The Lady Cardinals then took to the court that afternoon against #11 seed Briggsdale who advanced after the first round with a 3-1 victory against Wiley.
The two teams battled through a tough five-setter before McClave came out on top.
Gomez, Kiniston, and Steinbrunn combined for 48 of the 54 kills the Lady Cardinals had in the match.
Gomez slammed 19 kills, Kiniston 16, and Steinbrunn 13. Enciso had 5 kills.
Gomez also combritued an amazing 19 blocks (11 solo). Coen added 9 blocks.
The Lady Cardinals had at total of 162 digs.
Kennedy Vallejos led the way with 31 digs. Phillips followed with 28 digs, Kiniston 26, Gomez 26, Steinbrunn 27, Enciso 11, Coen 9, and Kendall Smartt with 4.
Phillips distributed 49 assists.
On serve-receive, Gomez had 28, Kiniston 26, and Steinbrunn 21.
McClave had 12 aces serves against the Falcons. Steinbrunn and Enciso both had 4 aces each and Kiniston and Gomez had 2 each.
McClave won the first set 25-18 and the second set 25-17 and looked in good shape.
The Lady Falcons, however, battled back behind their top hitter Jenna Krise, a junior, who headed into the state tournament with 484 kills to her credit.
Briggsdale fought back to win the third set 25-23 and take the fourth set 25-22.
In the fourth set, the score was tied 21-21 and McClave trailed by just 23-22 when two kills by Krise propelled her team to the victory.
That set the stage for a winner take all in the fifth set.
McClave held the lead from the start to the finish to post a 15-11 victory.
Gomez had some key blocks during that helped put her team in control.
The Lady Cardinals held a 12-6 lead before Briggsdale scored three straight points to trim the deficit to 12-9.
From there, both teams traded point for point.
With Briggsdale with the serve, a kill by Kiniston gave her team a 13-9 lead before a block by the Falcons earned them a point (13-10) and a side out.
McClave countered with a crucial kill by Steinbrunn for a point (14-10) and a side out.
A kill by Crise made it 14-11 and regained the serve for the Falcons.
Kiniston delivered the final big blow when she hammered a kill for the match winner for the Lady Cardinals.
In the quarterfinals on Friday, the Lady Cardinals showed their grit and determination to win a five-set battle against the #7 seed Simla Cubs.
Simla had beaten Kit Carson, 3-0, in its second match on Thursday.
Enciso shined and played big for the Lady Cardinals to lead her team with 15 kills. Gomez followed with 14, Kiniston 11, and Steinbrunn with 8.
Gomez also had 11 blocks and Coen had 9.
The Lady Cardinals played tremendous in the back row to register 171 digs.
Steinbrunn recorded a team-high 32 digs. Vallejos and Phillips followed with 27 digs apiece, Gomez 25, Kiniston 23, Enciso 16, Coen 12, Smartt 9.
Phillips doled out 43 assists.
On serve-receive, Steinbrunn had 35 chances, Gomez 28, and Kiniston 26.
In the match, McClave came out to win the first set 25-21 before the Cubs fought back to win the second set 25-19 and the third set 25-22.
In the fourth set, the Lady Cardinals made a statement with a 25-14 victory and gain some momentum.
In the winner take all fifth set, the score was tied 2-2 before the Cubs took a 3-2 lead and went on to build a 12-9 lead before the Lady Cardinals made a run.
With Coen at the service line, McClave scored six straight points to take a 14-13 lead.
The six-point run was ignited by a block from Gomez. McClave scored the next point on another block which was followed by an ace serve by Coen to deadlock the score at 12-12.
The next two points came on kill by Gomez and a hit out of bounds by Simla to make it 14-12.
The Cubs scored to bring the score to 14-13 after a hitting error by McClave.
McClave got a big break when a hitting error by Simla awarded the match point to the Lady Cardinals and the celebration was on.
It was third five-set win for McClave this season.
“We are so excited to be playing in the semifinals,” said Coach Steinbrunn. “We worked very hard for this moment. Tonight (Friday) was a battle for us. Simla is a great team and we knew we were going to have to fight for every point and every set.”
“We struggled in sets two and three and our stats and the scores reflect that,” she explained. “We had a lot of mental errors that compounded. We talked on the bench heading into the fourth that they had to commit. Their effort, their attitudes, they had to commit to this game and their team. And they did that. They took that set 25-14.”
“What really helped a ton for us was our passing,” Steinbrunn continued. “McKayla Kiniston, Abrielle Gomez, and Ashlynn Steinbrunn passed phenomenally in the serve receive. We also had three girls who’s dig percentage was over 90%. They were scraping and picking up the ball. Along the net, when our middles were getting shut down, Mariah Enciso stepped up and had a great night on the outside leading the team with 15 kills. In the final set Kierra Coen handled the pressure and came through with the final serves that finished off the game. I’m super proud of our girls.”
The future looks bright for the McClave volleyball program and Coach Steinbrunn said her players can’t wait until next year.