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RANGELY I Win the Western Slope League championship. Check.
Win the district tournament. Check.
Win the regional tournament. Check.
Next on the Lady Panther’s to-do list — win the state volleyball tournament.
“Our first goal was to be league champs, then win district, then win regionals,” said Rangely coach Jimmie Mergelman. “Now their goal is to be state champs.”
The once-beaten Lady Panthers will play their first match at the 2A state tournament Friday at the Denver Coliseum. Rangely is the No. 3 seed. Undefeated Fowler is the No. 1 seed, followed by Burlington. The Lady Panthers will face No. 6-seed La Veta in their first match, expected to start around 10:30 or 11 a.m.
Rangely is one of eight teams that advanced to the state tournament. Each team is guaranteed to play three matches.
“They will all be good,” Mergelman said of the other state-qualifying teams. “You have to be good to make it this far.”
Mergleman thinks her team is on a mission.
“They want to prove themselves,” she said. “They are very determined. We’ve played well the past couple of weeks, and I think we’re still playing well.”
The Lady Panthers, whose only loss was the opening tournament of the season against Class 5A Grand Junction, played well at last weekend’s regional tournament at Palisade. Rangely didn’t lose a game in its three matches against Telluride, Paonia and Mancos.
“We played well,” Mergelman said. “We were nervous, I thought, the first match (against Telluride). The girls really didn’t want to lose and sometimes you maybe try too hard. But overall I thought they did a nice job.”
All three games in the match against Telluride were close: 25-20, 25-22, 26-24.
In the second match of the day, Rangely played a familiar opponent — Paonia. The two teams had met three times previously this season, including both league and district play. The Lady Panthers won in three games at the regional tournament: 25-20, 25-10 and 25-15.
In the final match of the day, No. 2-seed Rangely beat top-seeded Mancos. The Lady Panthers won in three games: 25-20, 25-7, 25-23. While Rangely was familiar with Paonia, both Telluride and Mancos were first-time opponents this season for the Lady Panthers.
“I knew they both were going to be good teams,” Mergelman said. “I had done a little scouting the week before. They were definitely good teams.”
Mancos, which finished second in the regional tournament, will also advance to the state tournament.
Mergelman was pleased with the way her team took care of business on their way to becoming regional champs.
“It was a good accomplishment,” the Rangely coach said. “Everybody did their role, whether sitting on the bench cheering or on the floor playing.
“Vic (Victoria Phelan) and Marie (Morton) did a great job,” Mergelman said of the two frontline players. “And I thought our defense — Kelsey Harvey and Roz Thacker — did an excellent job. We didn’t allow many balls to hit the floor.”
The Lady Panthers received a boost when sophomore Brittany Babineaux returned after sitting out the district tournament because of a shoulder injury.
“She had rehabbed her shoulder and been strengthening it for two weeks and she said it was stronger and better than ever, so we were happy to have her back,” Mergelman said. “She had a couple of great solo blocks against Mancos that were kind of a turning point.”
Two years ago, Mergleman, in her first season doubling as the volleyball and girls’ basketball coach, took the Lady Panthers to the state volleyball tournament. That’s back when this year’s seniors were sophomores.
“I don’t think we won a game,” Mergelman said. “We had a couple of opportunities, but we were young.”
This year’s team is just the opposite, with 14 seniors on the roster. In addition, there is a mix of younger players who have also made key contributions this season.
“They are just good kids who work really hard,” Mergelman said of this year’s team. “They are determined to prove themselves and do whatever it takes to win. If we come out and do our job and play the way we’re capable of, we’ll be able to do some things (at state).”