Lions roar against Basalt |

Lions roar against Basalt

Jon Maletz
Basalt's Nicole Booth falls short in getting to the ball against Classical Academy Titans during Friday's Class 3A state high school volleyball tournament at the Denver Coliseum. The Longhorns spikers dropped two games on Friday and another on Saturday to finish their season 25-5 overall. (Evan Semon/AP)

DENVER – Basalt senior Liz Nemiec smiled as she watched 6-foot-3-inch Colorado Springs Christian freshman Morgan Broekhius punish the Denver Coliseum floor with a few warm-up kills.It soon became clear that Nemiec and the Longhorns were outsized and overwhelmed. The two-time defending state champion Lions cruised to a 3-0 victory in Saturday’s 3A state tournament match to remain unbeaten and clinch pool No. 1’s top seed.Basalt (25-5 overall) was officially eliminated from championship contention late Friday. The Classical Academy bested St. Mary’s, both of which went 1-1 its two games Friday, in Saturday’s first match to clinch the second seed. The two teams from each pool with the best records advanced to the semifinals, which were to be played Saturday afternoon.”You’ll never see a better team than that,” Basalt coach Dave Drozd said. “For us to put up 18 points against them, I’m feeling pretty good right now.”Basalt opened Games 1 and 2 with 2-0 leads, causing Nemiec and others to exchange a few sarcastic cheers. They didn’t last long. The Lions, who have yet to lose a game in 3A this season, precisely and methodically took command. They contested nearly every Basalt possession near the net and pummeled the defense.CSCS (27-2) countered Basalt’s quick start in Game 1 by going on a 10-2 run. Broekhius and the Lions outside hitting duo of Lisa Meeter and Marisa Hornbaker dominated at the net. During her team’s run, Hornbaker had three kills.

While his team was in good position the majority of the time, Drozd said there was little his players could to combat the Lions’ sheer size and power. “You don’t do [much] against them,” Drozd said. “You just hope and pray you can dig their balls. We were in the right position. It just wasn’t enough.”The Lions closed on a 10-2 run to seal the 25-12 Game 1 win. Basalt could do little to overcome its decided size disadvantage at the net. The Longhorns have one player – 5-foot-11-inch sophomore Dayne Toney – that stands taller than 5 feet 9 inches; The Lions have six, led by Broekhius.”Does she play like a freshman? At last check, I’d say no,” Drozd said. The Longhorns’ lead in Game 2 was again short-lived. The Lions tied the score at three following a Basalt mishit on a return of serve, then proceeded to win nine of the next 13 points to seize command. Drozd, with his team trailing 12-7, called a timeout to slow CSCS. The strategy didn’t work. Hornbaker produced a kill on the ensuing play, then teamed with Meeter to block an attempted kill by sophomore Shelby Holmes. The Lions followed with an ace, and then won seven of the game’s final eight points to take a 2-0 lead. Basalt senior Bailey Holmes spoiled one game point with a kill through a wall of blockers. Meeter responded by going high to slam down a soft Basalt crossing shot.While she wouldn’t admit it, Nemiec and the Longhorns looked intimidated.

“We watched them beat a team that we lost to [Classical Academy] 25-8, 25-8, 25-14,” Nemiec said. “I was just excited to play against that kind of team where most of the players are going to play Division I. They were really, really talented.”The Longhorns again started strong in Game 3, jumping out to a 5-1 lead. Sandwiched between two Toney kills was a Bailey Holmes ace. Sophomore Heather Nemiec followed with a strong shot from the back line that bounced off a Lions defender and hit the floor. Toney answered after two CSCS points by catching the defense off guard with a drop shot at the net, stretching the lead to 6-3. The momentum the Longhorns generated was hurt when Liz Nemiec followed with a serve into the net. After a net violation gave Basalt a 7-5 edge, Toney had another service error. The Lions won five of the next six points, and never looked back. Basalt could pull no closer than three the rest of the way. CSCS clinched the match and the top seed by ending on a 4-0 run capped by an Amy Whitlow kill.The Longhorns failed to notch the program’s elusive first state win in this, their third trip – a losing streak that is now seven games. “The girls were intimidated, but they came out and played with their hearts,” Drozd said. “I can’t ask for anything more.”The Lions, 3A’s version of a dynasty, is 13-0 in the state tournament since 2004. And during that stretch, they’ve lost just one game. They are once again the favorite to win a third straight state crown. CSCS topped Valley and Eaton in the 2004 and 2005 finals, respectively.

Basalt was consumed by mixed emotions as they walked off the court. “For some, this was their last game. That’s always tough,” Drozd said. “They wanted to win and show they belonged. I hope some teams now look at us in a different light.”Nemiec, one of four seniors – Bailey Holmes, Samantha Christensen and Esmeralda Salvatierra – was teary-eyed as she contemplated the weight and finality of the moment. “There’s something about the atmosphere here that makes it so special,” she said. “I’d rather be here and be losing than not be here at all. I hope I can come back in the next two years and watch my sister play down here.”Never again will I experience anything like this.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is

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