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Bears catching fire entering league play

Head coach Gina Hollen: “It’s been a challenging season so far, in part because we’ve been making a lot of adjustments with our lineups, but I think we’re starting to get into a groove.”
Dolores volleyball riding three-match winning streak

It looks like the pieces are starting to fall into place for the Bears.

After a sluggish start to the 2021 season, the Dolores High School volleyball team has caught its stride and appears poised for a run at the San Juan Basin League crown. The Bears took a huge step in the right direction in their home opener, rallying from a set down to top Telluride 21-25, 25-23, 25-16, 25-19.

Dolores (5-5, 3-0 2A/1A SJBL) opened the campaign with three straight losses against top-tier competition, but as the calendar turned to September, the Bears started to change gears. Wins against Salida and Crested Butte helped turn the tide, while a productive three-win week helped the Bears pull back to .500 on the season.

Head coach Gina Hollen’s group have had some growing pains through the emergence of first-time varsity players taking on full-time roles within the rotation, but the early season jitters appear to be ironed out.

“It’s been a challenging season so far,” said Hollen of her team’s tough early schedule, “in part because we’ve been making a lot of adjustments with our lineups, but I think we’re starting to get into a groove.”

Senior Erin Brown, after being named to the All-state Second Team in spring, spearheads the Bear attack, hitting better than .250 on the season, while leading the team in aces and digs.

Throughout the first few weeks of competition, a number of other Bears have emerged to complement Brown’s prowess at the net.

Classmate Olivia Cosner has taken on a role as a major playmaker for Dolores, both at the net and from the service line. Meanwhile, junior Chandler Smith and sophomore Mikayla Puett have provided extra options for senior setter Kamri Willbanks.

Telluride (3-6, 1-3 2A/1A SJBL) came out firing in the opening set, as junior Emma Righetti posed problems for the Bears at the net, putting down several kills to propel the Miners to a first set victory.

The tide shifted in a tight second set, however, as the Bears started to build confidence around the net, with big plays by Brown and Cosner helping the hosts eke out a 25-23 second set.

In the third, the Bears consolidated their gains and began to impose their tempo on the contest. Trailing 6-5 early in the set, Cosner fired a sequence of serves that proved too hot to handle for Telluride. Cosner opened a 10-0 run for the Bears with a block of her own and a pair of unreturnable serves, while Brown added three kills and a block in the sequence to put the set out of reach at 15-6.

“(Olivia) Cosner has really emerged as a strong server for us,” said Hollen of her senior standout. “She’s not trying to do much, but is just making the smart decision and relying on her teammates to keep the ball in play.”

Puett added a kill later in the set, before Smith polished off the Miners with her own deft touch to take the third set, 25-16.

“Our girls are starting to recognize that they’re all capable of stepping up and making that big play,” added Hollen, referring to the number of match-changing points provided by multiple Bears.

With momentum on their side, the Bears cruised to a 12-7 lead in the fourth set, thanks in part by a fine dig by Smith, leading to a Brown kill that ignited the home crowd. Senior Autumn Gonzales added a kill moments later, before Brown added a couple of kills to put the Bears in front 22-13. Puett capped the afternoon with a block on match point, keeping Dolores perfect in the league.

“The girls are really rising to the occasion,” said Hollen, “and we’re gaining confidence with each match.”

Earlier in the week, the Bears topped Ridgway and Mancos in straight sets to open up San Juan Basin League play.

Dolores prepares for a huge match on the horizon, when they travel to Ignacio for a battle of league unbeatens atop the SJBL. The match is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 21st, and will be the last road match for the Bears until late in the season, as they get set for a lengthy home stand beginning on the following Thursday, Sept. 30th when the Bears host Mancos.