Middle Park heads off to state tournament today
Panthers have steamrolled most of the competition this year
If you see the Middle Park volleyball team smiling extra big on their way out of town today, you might smile back at them and wave because the Panthers have earned it.
For the team’s five varsity seniors — Brianna Renteria, Maggie Pfeiffer, Katie Trail, Dominyka Reventaite and Kate McCauley — they know what it’s like to struggle, to work hard and not always see the wins pile up behind them. Last year, the team didn’t perform nearly as well as they would have liked to, and that’s one reason this year’s success has been that much sweeter.
“We’re super excited and the progress from last year is like massive,” McCauley said during a break in Wednesday’s practice at MPHS.
Middle Park will leave town today with a parade and police escort as the Panthers make their way to the Region 5 round of the Class 3A state tournament.
In Greeley, they’ll face regional-host University and Highland in a round-robin affair Saturday. University enters the bracket with the fifth seed while Highland is No. 20. The Panthers have spent much of this week preparing mentally and physically for the hard hitters and stiff blockers they expect to face on Saturday.
“After a tough year, it feels really great to win and show people that we are capable of a lot more than we did last year,” Pfeiffer said of the team’s success this season.
At 11-3 overall and 7-2 in the Western Slope, the Panthers got to this point by steamrolling their way through the 2021 spring volleyball campaign. Their victories include wins over KIPP Denver, Bennett, Sheridan, Platte Canyon, Arrupe Jesuit, The Academy, West Grand, Lake County and The Pinnacle.
All said and done, it was enough to earn Middle Park the No. 12 seed in the still-alive, 24-team field for the state tournament’s regional brackets this weekend.
“It’s just crazy, crazy to think we’ve come this far having been so low in the rankings last year, and just knowing that all of our hard work paid off is really exciting,” Renteria noted.
Advancing to the league tournament last weekend, Middle Park handled Bennett for the third time this year, but DSST:Montview, which clipped the Panthers in their season opener, continued to be problematic for Middle Park and emerged the victor.
Throughout the season, the girls have played under COVID guidelines. That means wearing masks during their games and that their hometown fans have been limited in the numbers allowed into the games.
But if you ask the team about how COVID has affected their year, their response might surprise you.
“In my personal opinion, I think it’s been to our advantage,” Trail said. “We got an extra couple months to prepare. We’ve done CrossFit. We had more time to practice. It’s been a year and a half (since the 2019 volleyball season) so we’ve had that much more time to prepare.”
Looking back at the season, the team’s five seniors all said they greatly enjoyed beating Bennett three times this year, essentially turning the tables on a Tigers team that had the Panthers’ number last year.
Surprisingly, some of the girls also see the first game of the season, where Middle Park fell to DSST, as one of the highlights. It was in that game, Trail said, she saw how well the team could play together and that this year “was a whole different ballgame.”
The team has depth across the classes, but the success of this squad rests heavily on the senior class. And all five of them have clear direction with plans for college after high school.
McCauley will travel the farthest from home to attend California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. As previously reported in an article about her business endeavors, Trail has her sights on Snow College, Utah, where she’ll focus on business.
Staying in state, Renteria is going to the University of Northern Colorado to study nursing, Pfeiffer will attend the University of Colorado-Boulder and Reventaite is going to Colorado State University to study interior design.
After going through the last four years together, the seniors describe themselves and the team as “a family.” As they move past high school, the impact of this family unit will be felt for a long time to come.
“I definitely see (our team) as a family now,” Reventaite said. “When we first came to high school we were scared of the seniors and everything. But us being seniors, we’re friends with everyone. It’s a big bond that we share and it’s something that we’re definitely going to miss.”
And the program and their coach will miss them, too.
“These five seniors, when I think back about them, they will be the foundation of the program as long as I am the coach,” said Kelly Friesen, who’s been the head volleyball coach for two years now. “They definitely set the standard of what it means to be a team player and what it means to be a student-athlete. They’re going to leave big shoes to fill, and I’m going to be really sad when they go.”
That’s later, though. Today, they’re driving to Greeley.
Locals cheer on the Middle Park boys soccer team last week as the team headed out of town to play in the Class 3A boys soccer state tournament. There are similar plans for the girls volleyball team, which will also be heading to the regional round of the state tournament today. | Courtesy Marianne McKinnon
All of Grand County is invited to line main street in Granby at 4 p.m. today to give the Middle Park volleyball team a nice sendoff as they head to Greeley compete in the regional round of the state tournament.
“Community support, especially in these COVID times, is so important to the kids,” Middle Park coach Kelly Freisen wrote on Facebook. “We hope to see you Friday (today). Go Panthers!”
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