Durango High School head volleyball coach Robin Oliger wanted to test her team against larger and quicker competition in 2012 after another pool-play exit at the CHSAA Class 4A Girls Volleyball State Championships, the hope being that it would better prepare DHS should the Demons have the fortune to make it to state again.
Six of the teams on Durangos schedule will join them this weekend at the Denver Coliseum, four of them in Class 4A.
So saying this years Demons are battle-tested would be a bit of an understatement.
Although Durango lost all six of those matches against Cheyenne Mountain, Windsor, Valor Christian, Ponderosa, Heritage and Chaparral the losses provided a measuring stick for the 17-8 Demons. And a lesson in speed.
Front Range teams are fast. I mean, you saw Pueblo West this weekend, Oliger said. Theyre just faster teams, and their competition, every match they have is a faster match.
The most important lesson may have come against Cheyenne Mountain, if only because Durango shares a pool with the top seed, and theyll meet Saturday in the two-day, four-pool, 12-team format. DHS dropped that early season match 3-0 but pushed the Indians to the limit in two games, eventually falling in three 25-21, 25-21, 25-16. DHS faltered against the four-time defending champion on the big stage in Denver the year before.
In 2011, Oliger said the Demons had some trepidation against the Indians because they only had heard about their exploits, having not seen them play. Playing them in an early-season, low-pressure atmosphere showed DHS it could compete.
I think that was really a good learning experience for us, Oliger said. For one thing, we came home thinking, Maybe we are OK. That little self doubt that was there before the season started (to go away).
It also was part of the affirmation process. Durango lost a key group of four seniors last year, led by Southwestern League Player of the Year and Division I recruit Sloan Lovett, and theres always an element of doubt when a core of that quailty is excised from a roster.
But Oliger said a summer of playing together started the ball of confidence rolling downhill, and by the time the Silver Creek and Cherry Creek tournaments were finished in September, the Demons started to believe that this unit could keep that state tournament roll going.
And that journey made Saturdays regional championship victory all the more satisfying for the seniors.
Weve worked really hard to adjust to it, and we have done great, I think, said Kennedy Clark, daughter of Letty and Randy Clark.
But its not only the seniors along for the ride. Junior defensive specialist Gaby Razma, who transferred from Mount Assisi Academy in Lemont, Ill., said shes delighted about the opportunity ahead of her new team and thats underselling Razmas level of excitement.
My school in Chicago, we never made it to state, so this is really, really exciting. Im just soaking up the moment and trying to enjoy it as much as I can, said Razma, daughter of Ed and Kristina Razma.
Now to see if itll all pay off.