Squaring off on Sept. 3 in Mancos High School’s historic gymnasium, which was completely renovated over the summer, the Mancos and Dove Creek volleyball teams put on a show, and players on both sides enjoyed the new facility.
Among the keys to Dove Creek’s 25-13, 13-25, 25-18, 31-29 victory was impressive serving by multiple players and an impressive hitting effort by senior Cassie Gatlin, who showed why she is regarded as one of the top outside hitters in the San Juan Basin League this season.
While Mancos ended up on the wrong side of the final score in the back-and-forth match, the team’s offensive attack, led by senior Magdalena Halls, showed promise, and the serving of senior captain Kasey Wallace stood out.
“What I liked about the match was our serving,” Mancos head coach Brittany Lang said. “I thought that our serving was the strongest that I’ve seen in a long time. We had more aces and we were confident.”
Although strong serving by the Bluejays was a theme throughout the match, the opening set of action between the two teams was defined by strong serving by the Bulldogs, which built a 6-1 lead thanks to several well-placed serves by junior Kobie Beanland.
After Mancos tied the opening set 10-10, Dove Creek scored six consecutive points and pulled ahead 15-10 after several strong serves by sophomore Tara Buffington, before eventually closing out the set thanks to several serves by Gatlin.
“(First year head coach Jody Gardner) just wants us to make the serve over the net,” Buffington said. “I focused on one person to serve to rather than just serving the ball and that worked out well.”
After receiving a spirited pep talk from Lang after the first set, Mancos came out on fire in the second set and built an 18-2 lead, eventually closing out the set thanks to several powerful kills by Halls, who at one point smashed a ball so hard that it ricocheted off the court and into the fifth row of the stands.
“I’ve been doing club volleyball and it is really helping,” Halls said. “I’ve also been going to open gyms and playing with the (high school) team throughout the summer. During (the second set), we had a lot of communication and we worked as a team more than as individuals. We had more than one person going to the ball.”
Heading into the third set with the match all even, players from Mancos and Dove Creek did their best to seize control during the first 18 points, which ended with the score tied 9-9.
A 10-0 run by Dove Creek, keyed by numerous kills by Gatlin and several strong serves from Buffington, allowed the Bulldogs to build a 19-9 lead, however, before eventually earning a 25-18 set victory.
During the final set of the match, several long points and numerous hustle plays by players on both teams brought fans to their feet, and after several nail-biting points during the final minutes of the match, Dove Creek pulled ahead by two points and earned a match-clinching 31-29 fourth-set victory.
“What I did not like was that we had no grit and no digging,” Lang said after the match. “What I said to the girls in the locker room is that they were playing to lose rather than playing to win.”
Although the match’s final score proved to be a disappointment for Mancos players, Halls noted that playing in the team’s newly renovated gym was an exciting experience before expressing the sentiment that the new facility will energize the team this season.
“To be honest, (playing in the renovated gym) was really awesome,” Halls said. “It will make a lot of good memories for my senior year. A bunch of my family played in the gym when they were in high school, and playing here allows me to carry on the family name.”
With Dove Creek’s record now at 3-0 on the season, the Bulldogs will face off against Olathe and Mancos again during the Gunnison Tournament on Sept. 7.
Mancos is now 0-1 on the year and will also compete in the Gunnison Tournament on Sept. 7.