Before the 2014 volleyball season began, Lewis-Palmer coach Susan Odenbaugh knew her team had the potential for "something special." But like any seasoned coach, she knows preseason potential is a long way from season-ending success.
Alexa Smith, Lewis-Palmer
Photo by Matt Daniels
But when all the matches were finalized from coast to coast and border to border, Lewis-Palmer's unbeaten season was even more magical than Odenbaugh could have dreamed.
Finishing atop the MaxPreps Xcellent 50 National Volleyball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard gives Lewis-Palmer the 2014 mythical national championship. The Rangers won Colorado's 4A title and all 29 of their matches, losing just five sets and winning 83.
The Rangers held off a late-season run by Redondo Union to become the first Colorado team named named national champion.
Redondo Union, which won California's Division I championship on Saturday night, jumped from No. 7 to No. 3, but could not leapfrog Lewis-Palmer or No. 2 Mercy.
"We've been watching the California season and wondering if they (Redondo Union) would pass it," said Odenbaugh, who guided Lewis-Palmer to the 2013 4A state title and a 27-2 record. "I can't wait to share the news with the team. They've all worked so hard."
Redondo Union captured its first California D-I title as it swept Pitman, 3-0. The Sea Hawks won their final 28 matches to finish 39-2.
Susan Odenbaugh, Lewis-Palmer
Photo by Matt Daniels
"At our preseason bonding and goal-setting meeting, going unbeaten was brought up, but even though I thought we could do it, we emphasized one set, one match at a time," said Odenbaugh. "Winning a national title never entered our mind."
Well, at least not until St. Ursula Academy was knocked off and Lewis-Palmer moved to No. 1 on Nov. 11.
During the season, the Rangers defeated 16 teams that reached Colorado's state tournament, including 5A champion Grandview.
"We knew we had a special team, so we put together the most competitive schedule we possibly could," said Odenbaugh. "I thought we could go unbeaten. We had a talented front row, a skilled setter and greater depth than we had before."
The Rangers swept seven opponents before losing a set, then swept a dozen more before losing another set. All but four of their victories were sweeps.
"With our depth, we were able to have some very competitive six-on-six practices," said Odenbaugh, who has only two seniors in opposite hitter Nicole Montgomery
and All-American Alexa Smith
, a finalist for National Player of the Year.
Mariah Evans, Lewis-Palmer
Photo by Matt Daniels
Even with that type of depth, the Rangers were faced with adversity late in the season with Mariah Evans
playing with an injured labrum.
"We encouraged her to have surgery, but she insisted on waiting until the season ended," said Odenbaugh. "Due to her injury, she was limited to 45 minutes in practice and played in excruciating pain."
Add to that, the Rangers' backup setter rolled her ankle, forcing assistant coach Kaitlin Dyche into the setter's role in practice. However, that didn't last long as Dyche tore her ACL.
"We had to get creative as the hitters weren't getting their usual reps, forcing us to use outside hitters as setters," said Odenbaugh.
The creativity paid off as the Rangers swept through the state tournament losing just one set in four matches.
At her team's season-ending awards banquet Sunday evening, Odenbaugh presented every player with a "Coaches Award."
"That's something usually only one or two players receive, but this group was special," said Odenbaugh, a finalist for National Coach of the Year.
MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Volleyball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
1. (1) - Lewis-Palmer (Monument, Colo.), 29-0
Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani, Redondo Union
Photo by Jann Hendry
Season over. Won Colorado's 4A title.2. (2) - Mercy (Louisville, Ky.), 41-1
Season over. Kentucky champion.3. (7) - Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.), 39-2
The Sea Hawks won their final 27 matches in winning the state Division I title. The duo of Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani
(16 kills) and Kristen Hamlin
(15 kills) combined for 31 kills, while Norene Losia
tallied 40 assists in the victory.4. (3) - Brentwood (Tenn.), 60-1
Season over. Won Tennessee large school title.5. (4) - Jesuit (Portland, Ore.), 37-0
Season over. Won Oregon 6A state title.6. (5) - Parkland (Allentown, Pa.), 45-0-1
Season over. State 3A champs.7. (6) - Benet Academy (Lisle, Ill.), 40-1
Season over. Won 4A state title.8. (8) - Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.), 37-3
The Monarchs won their third-straight California D-II title. Merin Kolte
(16 kills), Natasha Kosowicz
(14 kills), Julia Chizanskos
(13 kills) and Alexa Dreyer
(10 kills) combined for 53 of the Monarchs' 60 kills in the title match.9. (9) - Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville, Fla.), 31-1
Season over. Captured Florida's 5A title.10. (10) - Immaculate Heart Academy (Washington Township, N.J.), 41-1
Season over. Won eighth-straight non-public state title and fourth-straight state Tournament of Champions title.11. (11) - Mount Notre Dame (Cincinnati), 27-2
Season over. Won Ohio 4A title.12. (12) - The Woodlands (Texas), 41-3
Season over. Won second-straight state title.13. (14) - Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma, Wash.), 32-1-2
Katie Kampen, Mt. Carmel
Photo by Parker Waters
Season over. Captured its third-straight 4A state title.14. (15) - St. Mary's (Lancaster, N.Y.), 47-0-1
Season over.15. (16) - Charlotte Country Day (N.C.), 44-1
Season over. Won state Independent Schools 3A title.16. (17) - Mt. Carmel (New Orleans), 47-2
Season over. Won state large school title.17. (18) - P.K. Yonge (Gainesville, Fla.), 30-2
Season over. Won Florida 4A state title.18. (NR) - Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco), 37-3
In its first state finals appearance since 2009, Sacred Heart Cathedral claimed its first championship as it swept Saddleback Valley Christian. Kayla Yew
led the Fightin' Irish with 18 kills, while Mary Tran
served five aces.19. (19) - Ankeny Centennial (Iowa), 44-3
Season over. Won state championship.20. (20) - Desert Vista (Phoenix), 41-3
Season over. Won Arizona large school state title.21. (21) - Chaska (Minn.), 30-3
Season over. Won 3A state title.22. (22) - Cardinal Gibbons (Raleigh, N.C.), 27-0
Won sixth-straight state title, 81 of 83 sets this season and 62 straight matches. Season over.23. (23) - Flint Hill (Oakton, Va.), 34-0
Won 3A non-public school title and has won 43 in a row. Season over. 24. (24) - Aquinas (Overland Park, Kan.), 42-4
Season over. Won state 5A title.25. (25) - Divine Savior Holy Angels (Milwaukee), 45-4
Won Wisconsin large school title and final 21 matches.26. (NR) St. Francis (Wheaton, Ill.), 36-4
Season over. St. Francis won Illinois 3A title and finished with 30 or more wins for the 28th-straight year. 27. (12) - Pitman (Turlock, Calif.), 44-2
California D-I runnerup.28. (NR) Venice (Fla.), 28-2
Venice won Florida's 7A title.29. (NR) St. Ursula Academy (Cincinnati), 28-1
Ohio large school runnerup.
30. (NR) Carmel (Ind.), 32-7
Kayla Afoa, Kamehameha
Photo by Jann Hendry
Indiana large school champion.31. (NR) Aliso Niguel (Aliso Viejo, Calif.), 29-2
Season over.32. (NR) Punahou (Honolulu), 19-3
Season over. Won Hawaii large school title.33. (NR) Romeo (Mich.), 46-8
Won state large school title.34. (NR) Kamehameha (Honolulu), 31-2
Hawaii large school runnerup lost only to Redondo and Punahou in 2014.35. (NR) Mother McAuley (Chicago), 36-4
All four losses were to nationally ranked teams.36. (NR) Bettendorf (Iowa), 38-1
State large school runnerup.37. (NR) Papillion-LaVista (Papillion, Neb.), 42-1
Won 42 straight matches before losing state title match.38. (NR) Jupiter (Fla.), 29-2
State 8A runnerup.39. (NR) Emerald Ridge (South Hill, Wash.), 39-2-1
State large school runnerup.
40. (NR) Xavier College Prep (Phoenix), 37-4
Jordan Fate, Lovejoy
Photo by Ronald Roper
State large school runnerup.41. (NR) St. James Academy (Lenexa, Kan.), 40-7
State 5A runnerup.42. (NR) Indianapolis Cathedral, 32-5
State large school runnerup.43. (NR) Lovejoy (Lucas, Texas), 38-10
Won final 18 matches, including state 5A title. Lucas won previous six 4A titles.44. (NR) Wando (Mt. Pleasant, S.C.), 57-6
Won state large school title.45. (NR) Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), 30-12
State large school runnerup and winner of 20 of its final 22 matches (both losses, 3-2, to No. 3 Redondo Union).46. (NR) Harlan (Iowa), 40-2
Won state 4A title.47. (NR) Helias (Jefferson City, Mo.), 43-0-1
State 3A title winner.48. (NR) Eden Prairie (Minn.), 27-3
Minnesota No. 3 among large schools.49. (NR) Bentonville (Ark.), 34-2
Large school state champion.50. (NR) Notre Dame Academy (Park Hills, Ky.), 29-6
State runnerup, lost to No. 2 Mercy.