DENVER | The Cherokee Trail volleyball team paused in the midst of its jubilant celebration after winning the Class 5A state volleyball championship Saturday night and pointed in unison to the heavens.
With the memory of late teammate Celeste James in their hearts from the first to the last point of the season, the Cougars honored her memory with a 25-23, 25-20, 25-19 victory over Fairview at the Denver Coliseum.
There was clearly something different about coach Terry Miller’s Cherokee Trail team, which lost just two sets in four matches at a state tournament in which going to five sets was the rule rather than the exception.
Despite sitting around nearly five hours before they finally got to play, the Cougars showed physical and emotional fortitude and needed just three sets to get past Denver East — which took out rival Grandview in a tiebreaker — in the semifinals and Fairview in the finals.
Fittingly it was senior outside hitter Shannon Webb, who had been a part of all three of Cherokee Trail’s previously winless state teams, who put away the final point, sending the Cougars into a celebratory dog pile in the middle of the floor.
The victory kept the 5A state championship in Aurora for a third straight season following Grandview’s back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014 and Cherokee Trail became the fifth city school to win a state volleyball title all-time, joining Eaglecrest (2006), Grandview (2004, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2014), Overland (1986, 1990, 1993, 1994) and Smoky Hill (2001, 2002).
Coming off a dominating summer, Cherokee Trail came into the season regarded as the No. 1 team in 5A in many estimations, but that team included both James — who died just prior to the start of the season — as well as senior Amazing Ashby, a Colorado State signee who was lost in mid-season with a major knee injury.
Though the Cougars allowed they could have given up on the season, they instead banded together and went on an inspired run.
Cherokee Trail won the Centennial League championship for the first time, then qualified for state and went on to do what previous the program’s teams in 2007 (4A) and 2012, 2013 and 2014 (5A) failed to do, win at least one match.
The Cougars graduate Webb (an American signee), plus libero Mehana Fonseca and defensive specialist Victoria Petry, but return a large number of juniors from this season’s team in Kenzie Hendon, Robyn Krause, Mollee Picchione, Londyn Johnson, Emily Longnecker and others.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel