For the Dove Creek Bulldogs, a volleyball season defined by the elation of victory ended with an agonizing defeat at the Denver Coliseum.
Playing against the Fleming Wildcats in the semi-finals of the Colorado 1A State Volleyball Tournament on Nov. 9, the Bulldogs dropped a competitive three-set match, 25-18, 26-24, 25-17.
Looking somewhat flat to begin their biggest match of the year, the Bulldogs had difficulty matching Fleming’s intensity early on, dropping the first set 25-18.
“Right off the bat, Shelbie (Knuckles) came down on a Fleming players’ foot and sprained her ankle,” said Bulldogs’ head coach Scott Knuckles. “We still got some hitting from some of the other girls, but they had a good middle that we couldn’t figure out.”
Beginning the second set with renewed focus, the Bulldogs pulled ahead 9-8 after a block by Corissa Guynes, only to see their slim lead dissipate after several blocks by Fleming players.
After multiple back-and-forth points that featured solid hitting by both teams, the Bulldogs pulled ahead 24-23 on a kill by Corissa Guynes, but were unable to close out the set, eventually falling 26-24.
“We had a few calls that didn’t go our way,” said Scott Knuckles. “Not to take anything away from (Fleming) though, we should have finished it ourselves.”
Playing with their backs against the wall in the third set, the Bulldogs hung tough, pulling to within a point at 15-16 after a block by Fury.
At that point, Fleming would lock down however, sending multiple hard spikes into the Bulldogs’ court to secure a 25-17 third set victory.
Clearly shaken by their first defeat of the season, Bulldogs’ players congregated near their locker room, hugged and shed tears.
“I’m really proud of my team,” said Young. “I’ll always remember playing with all of my friends.”
“We’re a really close team,” added Bulldogs’ senior Shelbie Knuckles. “Even though we lost, we’re not mad at each other, and we know that we gave it everything that we had.”
Following their victory over the Bulldogs, Fleming advanced to the state finals where they defeated Caliche 19-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-21 to win the 1A State Championship.
IN POOL PLAY
Prior to their defeat to Fleming, the Bulldogs played like the top 1A team in Colorado, cruising through pool play with little difficulty.
Opening against Kit Carson on Nov. 8, the Bulldogs dominated from start to finish, jumping ahead early in route to a 25-14, 25-18, 25-18 straight set win.
The Bulldogs then returned to action on Nov. 9 and played some of their best volleyball of the season, spiking their way to a 25-4, 25-11, 25-13 victory over eighth seeded Vail Christian.
Opening the first set with a bang, the Bulldogs jumped ahead 7-0 following several Vail Christian hitting errors. Later in the set, the Bulldogs moved ahead 15-3 on an ace by senior Shelbie Knuckles, before closing things out 25-4.
“They came out strong and played with a lot of intensity,” said Bulldogs’ head coach Scott Knuckles of his team’s play in the first set. “Vail Christian got a set off us at Districts so it was nice to close things out.”
Continuing their stellar play in the second set, the Bulldogs jumped out to an 8-1 lead much to the chagrin of their shell shocked opponents.
Although Vail Christian would make a brief run to cut the score to 13-9, the Bulldogs pulled away, wrapping up the first set 25-11 on an ace by Corissa Guynes.
Intent on closing things out in the third set, the Bulldogs pulled ahead 12-2 on a kill by Shelbie Knuckles before closing out the set 25-13 with a perfectly placed spike that dropped in the back left corner of the court.
“We have a lot of confidence going into the next match,” said Scott Knuckles. “Hopefully that will help us a little bit.”
A STELLAR SEASON
Although the Bulldogs fell just short of winning a state championship, the team’s season was nothing short of spectacular.
In addition to their 26-1 season record, the Bulldogs were crowned District Champions, Regional Champions and received the top overall seed in the state tournament.
“From preseason rankings when we weren’t even on the list to the top four, I think that the girls did a great job,” said Scott Knuckles.