Highlands Ranch’s championship run in the Regis Tournament on the first weekend of September was nothing short of an exclamation mark on the Falcons’ quick ascent to the top of the 5A landscape; After all, this was a team that received just two votes in the preseason poll and, two polls and four weeks later, Highlands Ranch is now the third-ranked team in the land.
In that tournament, Highlands Ranch beat Legend, No. 2 Fairview, No. 1 Rock Canyon and No. 6 Chaparral to secure the title, and though the 5-3 Falcons have already shown flashes of weakness—HRHS opened the fall with consecutive losses to Bear Creek and Lakewood, and fell to 4A No. 10 Valor Christian last night—they’ve also racked up quality wins to prove they’re among the state’s strongest squads.
“There were close games in the tournament, but I felt like we were in control of all of them and that’s a great sign,” notes HRHS coach Louis Krauss, who’s been at the helm of the program since 2000 and led the Falcons to a state runner-up showing in 2009. “And then against Chaparral in the championship, it was just a really good match… There was a lot of blocking and a lot of really good rallies going on there.”
Leading the way for the Falcons is senior outside hitter Melissa Evans, a North Carolina State commit who’s already racked up a team-leading 160 kills through eight matches.
“She’s our best passer, our best hitter and our best blocker,” Krause says. “So she’s absolutely key, and so the big thing for us is keeping her healthy because she tweaked her knee a little bit in the tournament.”
Highlands Ranch’s other top producer, Kelsie Milkowski, is also on the mend following a badly sprained ankle. The Falcons will surely need her offensive prowess (93 kills) as the team begins Continental League play with a road showdown at Legend at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Other key athletes for HRHS include senior middle hitters Lauren Closs (CSU-Pueblo commit) and Ashley Cowart, both of whom give the Falcons a valuable presence up at the net in the face of the likes of Chaparral’s MaKenna Davis, Rock Canyon’s Keeley Davis and other potent spikers throughout a tough conference gauntlet.
“We have a pretty good blocking team,” Krauss says. “Lauren’s a good blocker, and then our tallest kid, (6’3″ MH/OH) Cassie Davis—she’s a freshman who’s a decent hitter and getting stronger there, but she’s already a really good blocker.”
Senior liberos Amaya Bross and Charlie Czerniakowski anchor the Falcons’ back row, while junior setter Allison Conor (171 assists) and sophomore setter Jill Borgerding (132 assists) are the gears that get HRHS’ 6-2 offense in motion.
But beyond the talent, experience and resume-building victories the Falcons already boast this fall, Evans—who is focused on breaking the program record for most career kills as she catalyzes HRHS towards state—stresses her team must come into every single match with a ‘no points off’ mentality.
“We need every point to be a big deal to us,” Melissa Evans says. “Now, on some points we really want to get the point, but on others we just go through the motions… We can’t do that if we want to beat the tough teams.”
And for a squad that came up one match short of making the state tournament in 2015, the Falcons are ready to prove that they’re here to stay among the 5A elite.
“The goal is to make it to state,” Krauss says. “We’ve shown we can play with anyone… It’s just a matter of getting there.”