By Ben Bradley
For The Journal
Resilience is a hallmark of a championship-level team. Dolores used every ounce of grit it could muster on March 24 to overcome a pair of sluggish sets to capture a five-set victory over Telluride, 25-23, 15-25, 14-25, 27-25, 15-9.
The Bears, seeking to return to the state tournament for the third time in four years, have dominated the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League over the previous three seasons, amassing a sparkling 36-1 record in league play. However, a 3-1 loss against Telluride on March 19 had head coach Gina Hollen’s squad looking to refocus heading into an anticipated rematch.
Dolores (2-1, 2-1 2A/1A SJBL) brought the energy early, riding junior outside hitter Erin Brown’s prolific attacking display to a 17-12 edge in the first set. After Telluride (2-2, 2-2 2A/1A SJBL) rallied to within one, the hosts found another surge to build the lead back to 22-17, before capitalizing on Miner mistakes to close out the set, 25-23.
“In the first game, we definitely executed the way that we wanted to,” said senior Sydney Smith, “and we kept that mindset throughout the match.”
It appeared as though Dolores might run away with the match, as the Bears pounced early in the second set, leading 8-2 out of the gate. Junior setter Kamri Willbanks set the tone with solid serves, and the Bears lead remained steady at 15-9 midway through the frame.
Then, suddenly, the Bears went ice cold. Telluride seized momentum in the set as they flipped the score line, scoring the final 16 points of the set to even up the match at one set apiece. The Miner surge continued with the first six points of the third set, a 22-0 run in total, with Dolores trying to play catch-up for the remainder of the set. Telluride cruised to a 25-14 third set margin, leaving the Bears to need to regroup heading to the fourth.
Just as suddenly as the Bears offense had disappeared, it made a triumphant return in the fourth set. Smith delivered a kill to give the Bears a 13-12 lead, their first edge since the middle of the second set. An ace from junior Kira Messier expanded the advantage, and the Bears started to sense they were back in control.
Moments later, senior libero Akira Edwards, flying and diving over the Dolores Fieldhouse floor all evening, provided a thunderous dig that smashed off the roof of the gymnasium, ricocheting back to her teammates, who kept the point alive and eventually scored to give the Bears a 20-16 lead in the set.
“Our energy was up at that point,” said Edwards, “and we could really tell that ‘this is our game’.”
Not to go quietly, Telluride rallied to take a 24-23 lead, and the Bears faced a match point. Under the pressure, junior Olivia Cossner delivered a huge kill to tie up the score, before another Brown kill gave the Bears the lead back. Dolores closed out the set, 27-25, setting up a decisive final stanza.
In the fifth set, Brown took over, recording six kills as the Bears built a 7-4 lead. Telluride answered again, scoring five of the next seven points to take a 9-8 edge.
In the clutch, though, the Bears found one more answer – as they went on their longest scoring run of the night to close out the match, capped with a Smith spike to seal the 15-9 deciding set.
“We pulled together as a team,” said Brown, after the come-from-behind victory, “and once we got to the fifth set, we knew we were going to win.”
Hollen credited her team’s unity for their ability to rally from a set down, “It shows that these girls really trust each other,” said the Dolores coach, “and how important it is for us to be aggressive rather than defensive.”
After dropping their first meeting against the Miners, Hollen noticed her team playing more within their strengths, “We didn’t try to do too much tonight,” said Hollen, “and that helped us limit the number of mistakes – we were really a whole different team.”
“We’re just improving all the time,” added Brown, “and the more that we get to play together, the better we’re going to be.”
Dolores prepares for a busy week ahead, as they take on Dove Creek, Norwood, and county rival Mancos in their next three outings.
“I love playing with this group,” summed up Edwards, “and for all the goals that we have as a team, including getting back to state, we just want to keep getting better all the time and have fun as a team.”