Qualifying for the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 3A state volleyball tournament is never easy for Bayfield High School, even after the Wolverines reached the state tournament six times from 2008-16.
Saturday, the Wolverines made it for a seventh time in the last 12 seasons with two big wins in the 3A Region 11 tournament on the road against Buena Vista and host Cedaredge.
For Wolverines’ senior Lana McKee, it’s not about the number of times the program has qualified for the tournament, or the No. 12 seed they received when the state tournament bracket was released Monday. This season has been defined by early mornings, late-night chores and a desire to return to state.
McKee is the defensive specialist for the Wolverines with 381 digs on the season. There’s no ball she won’t hit the floor for. Her work ethic both on and off the court has epitomized the Wolverines’ team this season. The senior is often the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave. After all of the work she puts in on her family farm before school begins, it’s no wonder she played such an integral role in helping BHS reach state for the first time since 2016.
McKee and her teammates work ethic Saturday was clear to see from the opening point against Buena Vista. When the Wolverines beat Cedaredge to punch their ticket to state, McKee said she’s never felt a greater reward after the work she put in during the offseason.
“Honestly, qualifying for state is probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” she said. “I love the game. All of the work I’ve put through it, all the time I’ve worked for myself like getting up at 5:30 every morning, it’ll be a thing I’ll never forget. It’s why I fell in love with the sport, fell in love with the girls, and it’s amazing. It’s amazing what sports can do for people, and the love I have for it, I would do anything for it.”
Her teammates recognize McKee’s work ethic and try to embody that spirit on the court.
“She’s a role model and a half,” said junior Melissa Roberts.
With a tough task in front of them, the Wolverines (17-8) know it will not be easy when they face No. 4 Colorado Springs Christian (23-2) at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the Denver Coliseum. But if the group has learned one thing over the course of the season, it’s to trust each other, and play with confidence.
“I think it will be fun to bring the big energy in,” Roberts said. “Just knowing the competition level is also huge. We’ve played in some big tournaments this year, and we have a coach with a lot of experience at state, and (Mavis Edwards) also knows what it’s like to play at state. I think playing our style of volleyball and with the energy that we have coming off of Cedaredge into the tournament, that will really propel us.”
The Lions are certainly no pushover. They have four players with more than 100 kills and are led by Charlie Tidwell who has 360, while Abby Miller has 190. Kirsten Brock has recorded a remarkable 863 assists on the year, averaging 11.4 assists per set.
While the Wolverines know they are the lowest seed at the tournament, it doesn’t mean they are out of contention.
Edwards leads the Wolverines with 227 kills, while sophomore Annie Fusco has recorded 173. Senior Meghan Youngblood has delivered clutch assists as the team’s setter and leads BHS with 488 assists. McKee has 477 receptions and averages 6.4 per set.
Their offseason tournament in Greeley as well as the Palmer Ridge Invitational in the final weekend of the regular season saw the Wolverines go up against some of the top-rated teams in both 5A and 4A, and Youngblood says she feels ready for any team they face.
“We know (Colorado Springs Christian) has played some good schools in 3A,” Youngblood said. “They played more private schools, so I wonder how they’re going to handle us. We have been going to tournaments with 5A schools, and looking at their schedule, I didn’t see many of those. We’ve competed with some of the best 5A schools, and I feel like we have an upper edge with our experience. Even going and losing, we’ve figured out what to expect and how to still play our best. That will only help us on Thursday.
“We need to play the Bayfield way. I think we need to keep our energy up. We’ve had a great season because we’ve been so steady and so focused. If we do that and play like we played in regionals, it will be a successful state tournament.”