As long as Kennedey Johnson is setting up Payton Brgoch for a kill, good things are going to be happening for Lutheran volleyball.
That was certainly the case a year ago. As juniors, Johnson and Brgoch put up staggering numbers as the Lions made their way through the Class 3A bracket, ultimately coming away with the program’s third state championship.
“It was the best feeling ever,” Johnson said. “Especially after losing to (five-time defending champion Eaton) in the second round. We knew we’d have another opportunity to do it and we knew we were the only team that could do it.”
The first thing that helps on a road to a championship is a dominating hitter. Brgoch proved to be just that as she was one of just two 3A players to record over 400 kills in the 2018 season. The other was Eaton senior Mackenzie Harris.
Harris and Brgoch went head-to-head early in the state tournament it was Eaton who came away with the four-set win.
Harris edged Brgoch in kills 23-21, and although the eventual 3A player of the year had a more effective hitting percentage (.588 to .365), the Reds’ win over the top-seeded team in 3A was a big deal early in the tournament.
“Getting over the mental hurdles (was going to be big),” coach Alicia Oates said. “They were beatable, we just had to play our game.”
The new double-elimination format kept Lutheran alive, but the Lions couldn’t afford another slip-up.
“Our biggest thing was getting to the semis,” Brgoch said. “That was our goal so we just started focusing on the next team.”
The next three matches were all dominating wins for the Lions as they dropped just one set the rest of the way. They advanced to the semifinals where they once again clashed with Eaton. Harris again edged Brgoch in kills, but Johnson and Brgoch were effective enough (31 assists and 29 kills, respectively) to lead Lutheran to a five-set win.
It took just four sets for Lutheran to beat Colorado Springs Christian to win the state title.
“We all just came together,” Brgoch said. “We learned something from the loss (to Eaton) and I think we played more together at that point.”
The Lions lost four seniors from last year’s championship team, but still returns plenty of veteran experience. But perhaps the biggest factor coming back is the dominating duo of Johnson and Brgoch.
“It’s huge, just as far as confidence and leadership,” Oates said. “They are really good leaders in terms of service leadership. They’ll be the first ones in the gym setting up the nets and the other girls will see that. They lead by example.”
Both were first-team all-state selections and were the only juniors to be awarded that honor. They’re hoping that the momentum they establish last season will carry over to 2019.
What else would the expectations for a championship-winning duo heading into its senior year be?
“Having Payton and I accomplish that and knowing we’re the only ones returning is a great feeling,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be constantly working and we’re going to be pushing our teammates so that we’re able to try and repeat. We’re setting a tone that we’re going for it.”