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Bulldogs acing mid-season test on volleyball court

Shania Kibel of Dove Creek High School spikes the ball past Andrea Sena of Mancos High in this photo from April.
Bulldogs stand atop the San Juan Basin League

DOVE CREEK – The Bulldogs are rolling again.

After a perfect run through San Juan Basin League play in the spring season, Dove Creek High School is halfway to that accomplishment this fall. Wins over Norwood, Ignacio, and Mancos in the past week have the Bulldogs primed for the second half of the campaign – and another run for the league crown.

The Bulldogs (10-1, 4-0 2A/1A SJBL) challenged themselves with some early season tests to help get primed for the stern competition in their league. An early season setback against 2A state-ranked Olathe, coupled with victories over Gunnison and border-rival Monticello, helped head coach Lacey Murphy’s squad develop as a well-balanced, attack-minded unit.

The rest of the state has taken notice, as the ‘Dogs have climbed to No. 9 in the most recent state coaches poll.

Threats to score from anywhere on the floor have made the Bulldogs such a problem for opposing defenses to manage, according to Murphy.

“We don’t have a ‘go-to player,’” said Murphy. “It’s the unit’s ability to make plays both in the system and out of it that allows us to have success.”

Senior Shania Kibel has emerged off an injury-riddled junior year to come back with a vengeance. She joins a quintet of Bulldogs who have at least 50 kills this season, a group that includes junior Trista Barnett. Senior Tara Buffington, also part of that group, has also been key in bolstering the Bulldogs’ attack, setting Dove Creek up with her team-high serves received.

Montezuma-Cortez High School’s Avery Wright spikes the ball into the hands of Dove Creek’s Lexi Gray and Trista Barnett in this photo from May.

The service game has put opponents on their heels, as well, as the Bulldogs have limited service errors and ramped up ace percentages. The ‘Dogs have fired over three aces per set this season, with junior Lexi Gray leading the way.

Meanwhile, sophomores Kalie and Kylie Gatlin have continued to establish themselves as one of the most feared combinations on the court. Kalie leads the 1A classification in assists from her setter position, while Kylie paces Dove Creek in kills.

“Kalie (Gatlin) has been good at using all of her options,” said Murphy, “and her ability to make good choices has made everyone on the team successful.”

Perhaps the biggest jump that coach Murphy has seen this year has come from the mental side of the game. “We’ve stayed in the game, regardless of mistakes,” she said. “I think a lot of plays that we would have given up on in the past, we’re still pursuing and making something of them.”

The continued success on the court appears promising, given the strong team chemistry and postseason pedigree. “This is a group that really supports each other,” said Murphy, “and they’ve really embraced the team culture and high expectations.”

The Bulldogs entertain Telluride on Tuesday, Sept. 28, for a 5:30 p.m. start, before they enter the October portion of their schedule with an Oct. 1 trip to Center. Matches against Sangre de Cristo (Oct. 9), a perennial state tournament qualifier, and Dolores (Oct. 14) loom on the horizon for the Bulldogs as they look to stay alone atop the San Juan Basin League.