One by one, the Telluride High School volleyball players stepped out of the temporary locker room.
One by one, the Miners were greeted by thunderous cheers from Telluride parents waiting in the hallway at Meeker High School.
One by one, they wiped away tears as they embraced Mom and Dad — their season finally over.
“This was amazing,” Telluride senior Danika Petit said. “It was my dream to play here (in the Class 2A Regionals).”
Though they left the locker room singularly, the Miners clearly remained united as a team after falling to host Meeker and Sargent in Saturday’s regional playoffs.
“The fact that we made it to regionals this year is huge for all of us … we were an underestimated team,” Petit said. “This team has so much grit. … this is a very special team. Of all the teams I’ve played on, this is the special team.”
Petit and her teammates powered into the postseason for the first time since 2016, compiling an 18-5 regular season record and earning a trip to the three-team regional in Meeker.
The Miners opened Saturday’s state-qualifying tournament with a back-and-forth match against Sargent.
The Telluride girls inched ahead in the first set 12-11, with Morgan Watkinson and Bella Galbo combining for a block against the taller Farmers.
The Farmers regained the lead before Telluride sophomore Emery Berry hammered a pair of kills.
But Sargent, behind kills from Becca Deacon and Lexxi Aguilar, surged and closed the first set with a 7-1 run to claim a 25-17 win.
The Miners, limited by untimely injuries late in the regular season, rallied in the second set. Head coach Rhea de Pagter, animated on the sidelines as she encouraged her team, juggled her shorthanded lineup to match the Farmers point for point.
Junior Kyra Levan broke a late tie with a dynamic kill, and the Miners won the second set 25-23.
Sargent answered with extended scoring runs in the third and fourth sets (25-18, 25-13) to win the match 3-1 in spite of kills and blocks from Telluride’s Petit.
With freshman Emma Righetti, one of Telluride’s leading attackers, slowed by a lower leg injury, the Miners moved on to their second match of the day against host and statewide No. 3 seed Meeker.
The Cowboys, in winning their 16th consecutive match, rolled past the Miners 3-0, playing in front of a packed gymnasium at Meeker High School.
The Meeker victory came despite the efforts of Petit, Watkinson, Galbo, Berry, Righetti, Brooke Shifrin, Ally Tealdi and the rest of the Miners.
Meeker, a top contender for a 2A state championship this week, beat Sargent 3-1 to win the regional and take a 23-2 overall record to the state tournament in Denver.
Even as the final points were flashing on the scoreboard, de Pagter continued her enthusiastic coaching and teaching from the Telluride bench.
Afterward, she counseled the tearful Miners and reminded them of the season’s accomplishments.
“There is going to be heartache, frustration,” de Pagter said. “But there’s also grit, determination, passion, love and support. I think it’s important that the girls never give up. Volleyball is such a game of momentum; you never know what can happen.”
Her pride in the Telluride players was obvious as she talked about their resurgent season.
“It’s a special team. That’s what makes this so hard,” the Telluride coach said. “But we walked out with our heads held high; that starts with me.”
With just two seniors (Petit and Sophia Bridger) on the varsity roster, de Pagter said she hopes the regional in Meeker will be a learning experience for the younger Miners.
“I hope that our team inspires younger players to fight, to play with grit, to leave everything out on the court,” she said “And never give up. Keep fighting. One point at a time.”
Petit said the Miners had such a strong season because they worked together.
“It’s such an incredibly supportive group of girls. We are sisters, I have to say,” Petit said. “We may not be blood-related, but we are sisters on the court. I’m incredibly proud of all of us.”
The Telluride senior, the daughter of Annette and John Petit, saved special praise for her coach.
“She’s a great coach,” Petit said. “We could not have made it here without her.”
De Pagter continued to reiterate her praise of the Miners’ effort.
And she offered closing comments for the Telluride fans, “A big thank you to all the parents and the Telluride community for all their support.”