VAIL and JOES – Dove Creek and Dolores entered Saturday’s 1A and 2A regional tournaments as the preeminent small-school volleyball programs from Southwest Colorado. The top two finishers in the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League this season, the Bears and Bulldogs could not extend their season one more week, as both teams dropped matches in the regionals to wrap up their 2021 season.
Traveling to take on another pair of Western Slope powers in the 2A regional tournament, Dolores knew that they would have a tall task against unbeaten Vail Christian and perennial power Del Norte. The No. 19-seeded Bears (10-6, 10-2 SJBL) opened up against the sixth-seeded Saints.
Battling well with the hosts throughout the course of tightly contested opening set, Dolores couldn’t quite close out the deal, as the Saints pulled away to take the first set, 25-19. Riding the momentum on their home court, Vail Christian (11-0, 9-0 2A/1A WSL) seized control in the second set, as they eased past the Bears, 25-14.
However, head coach Gina Hollen’s squad fought back in the third, using some of the tenacity that spurred a comeback win against Telluride earlier in the year. Another comeback wasn’t in the cards, though, as the Saints captured the third set, 25-19, to sweep the match.
Back on the court not long thereafter, the Bears faced another formidable challenge, looking for revenge against No. 11 Del Norte, who toppled Dolores in regular season action earlier in the month.
Another hard-fought effort for the Bears, led by three seniors playing in their final match for the red-and-black, came up short, as Del Norte (11-5, 8-0 2A/1A Southern Peaks) staved off every Bear rally to win, 25-17, 25-21, 25-21.
Seniors Sydney Smith, Akira Edwards, and Nina Hufman cemented their legacy as one of the most successful groups to ever come through Dolores High School. In the four-year span, Dolores volleyball went 71-20, to go along with three San Juan Basin League titles and two state tournament appearances.
Vail Christian topped Del Norte, 3-1, in the final match of the day to send the Saints to the 2A state tournament, to be played May 12-13 at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.
Dove Creek head coach Lacey Murphy and her Bulldogs did not shy away from tough competition all season long. Along with running the gauntlet of 2A/1A San Juan Basin League play with a perfect 10-0 record, the Bulldogs scheduled 3A power Montezuma-Cortez, as well as 1A regional qualifiers Sangre de Cristo and Cotopaxi with the intent of preparing the Bulldogs for the rigors of 1A regional play.
The Bulldogs made their trip to the Eastern Plains, aware that they would need their best to get by South Baca and Stratton/Liberty, en route to a 1A state tournament appearance. The No. 12-seed Bulldogs (12-3, 10-0 SJBL) began their pursuit against South Baca (7-9, 3-5 1A Arkansas Valley).
The Bulldogs needed to shake off early nerves against the Patriots, who upended the Bulldogs in the opening set, 25-22. Leaning on their seniors, the Bulldogs turned the tables in the second set, as they clawed past South Baca, 25-19.
In a pair of back-and-forth sets, Dove Creek closed out the Patriots 25-23 and 25-22, thanks to timely kills to win the match and set up a winner-take-all matchup against the hosts, Stratton/Liberty.
Entering as the No. 5 seed, Stratton/Liberty (15-1, 5-0 2A/1A Union Pacific) boasted one of the deepest line-ups in the classification, with four plays with over 100 kills apiece. The balanced attack from the Knighted Eagles kept Dove Creek on their heels, as the hosts picked up a 25-18 win in the opening set.
From there, Stratton/Liberty continued to apply pressure, with the Bulldogs finding rallies in response to hang close in the second set. However, Dove Creek ran out of steam to drop the set, 25-18, before the Knighted Eagles closed out the match, 25-10, to seal a spot in the 1A state tournament.
Seniors Kobie Beanland, Grace Hatfield, and Laurel Hankins capped off tremendous careers in their final match, having captured their first unbeaten league slate since 2013, along with district titles in each of their campaigns. The Bulldogs have produced four consecutive winning seasons, collecting a cumulative record of 69-17 over that span.