Gymnasiums are the soul of any high school’s sports programs.
Although not all triumphs are won under the glow of their yellowing lights and retractable seating, the gymnasiums are where the banners hang and the ghosts and glories of those days will forever find comfort.
Evergreen teams have won 20 state championships under the umbrella of the Colorado High School Activities Association, in addition to numerous individual titles in everything from swimming to track and field.
No face in the past 50 years hangs over Evergreen High School like that of volleyball coach Laurice “Lo” Hunter, who started showing the Cougars the finer points of the sport in 1973. By 1976 the Cougars would have their first of what would become nine state titles in the sport and a host of state and national records and accolades.
It’s no wonder many people will long consider Evergreen a volleyball school.
“I always wanted that 10th championship,” joked Hunter, who left coaching in 1995 and currently resides in Wheat Ridge.
Hunter will just have to settle for the following:
Eight consecutive state championships from 1978 to 1985.
Seven consecutive undefeated seasons. Fowler High School is second in the state for undefeated seasons with four, but Fowler needed 10 years to get them.
182 consecutive wins, which is tops in the state and fifth in the nation. The second-longest streak in Colorado was set by Fowler with 92 wins.
67 consecutive games without a loss, which is tied for third in the state.
A coaching record of 503-82. Hunter’s 503 wins was recently passed by Fowler coach Vin Mizer, but still stands tied for fifth-best nationally amongst volleyball coaches.
14 state tournament appearances in 23 seasons.
And those are just the highlights, which is why Hunter looks at the big picture now when she reflects on what she did for the Cougars.
“I really enjoy being a Christian as of late,” said Hunter, who in 1999 was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame. “I really think that being fair is so important. I think the wonderful values – that if you teach your students – the values in athletics carries them through their life.”
When asked how the Cougars were able to maintain seven consecutive undefeated seasons, Hunter just laughs. It was all magic. Then she quickly gives credit to the dedication of her players and their parents.
She pokes fun that Evergreen should have won 10 straight titles had she been a better coach in 1977.
Practices were intense, she remembers. They started early in the morning and had a second session after school.
“We taught them how to play the game ee I didn’t play points, I threw balls,” she said. “That made them react that taught them where to be.”
Girls grew up wanting to be in the program and as the undefeated streak grew, the players came into the program vowing that the streak wouldn’t end on their watch.
Hunter recalled the 1981 season when the team earned the dubious nickname of the “Cardiac Cougars.” They fed off of newspaper articles or opposing fans that predicted a premature end to the streak.
“We’d be down 11-2 in the third game and those kids would come through for you,” she said. “It was just fabulous.”
The list of great players over those years? Good luck getting them all down.
For certain, however, two of the greatest players to emerge from those years are Tanya Haave and Sherri Danielson.
Haave, currently the head women’s basketball coach at San Francisco University, is a legend on the court. The 1980 Evergreen graduate set a cart full of records with the University of Tennessee’s prestigious women’s basketball program before embarking on a stellar international career that took her from Sweden to Australia.
Danielson is one of five athletes to have their jersey number retired by Colorado State. She was the Rams’ first All-American in volleyball and earned a spot on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team.
Some of the most endearing memories were relatively simple moments.
“When you see a father go out there on the court crying and hugging his daughter, not his son, but his daughter, because they are so happy at how they performed, that’s a blessing, I think,” Hunter said.
Evergreen’s first CHSAA state championship came from the boys cross country team in 1965, followed by a boys track title in 1968.
Those years also produced Evergreen’s only wrestling champions – arguably the toughest individual sport offered for prep athletes. Dave Linder won state as a 120-pounder in 1960, Fred Barnes took the heavyweight title in 1968 and Rick Rohwer won at 185 in 1970.
After Hunter’s success with the volleyball team, the soccer teams rose to power. The boys won state in 1989 and the girls won their first state championship in 1990 and added their second in 1997.
The baton was then passed to the poms squad, which won its first of six state titles in 1996.
Jeremiah Giambartolomei won a state title in the discus in 2005.
In terms of national prep crowds and tradition, football and baseball typically draw the most interest. The baseball squad can boast of having a part in the development of current Major Leaguer Kevin Kouzmanoff, who plays for the San Diego Padres.
Football biggest brush with a championship came in 1999 when the Cougars advanced to the Class 3A state final against Fort Morgan.
The game was unique in that it was played on a Sunday after a snowstorm forced a one-day delay. After winning in overtime to get past Salida in the first round of the playoffs, and downing powerhouse Eaton 39-34 in the semifinals, the Cougars were feeling pretty good about facing the Mustangs on their home field in the final.
Then the Cougars got to see just how big the Mustangs were on the line of scrimmage.
“We sent them to a bazooka fight with pea shooters,” joked then-assistant coach Ryan Mullaney, who parlayed his experience behind head coach Larry Allen to eventually land the head coaching job at Denver’s South High School for a few years.
Opportunistic turnovers held Evergreen keep Fort Morgan at bay in the first half but the home team’s size and speed eventually broke through as the Cougars were routed 40-10.
“That was a special breed of kids we coached there,” Mullaney said of the Evergreen squad.