Opponents often leave Dove Creek’s gymnasium shaking their heads, wondering how to break down the Bulldogs.
Case and point – Ignacio Bobcat senior Harmony Reynolds unleashed a thunderous spike that would have led to a collective celebration against almost any other team in the San Juan Basin League.
However, a dive and a flash of Bulldogs chasing after the dig kept the point alive.
Shortly thereafter, as the Dove Creek Bulldogs (12-0, 3-0 2A/1A SJBL) collected themselves, junior Kalie Gatlin lofted a pinpoint set into the waiting trajectory of sophomore Ralynn Hickman, whose kill left the Bobcats stunned in exasperation.
Even when opponents do everything well – which the Bobcats (6-7, 2-1 2A/1A SJBL) executed for significant stretches of their match against Dove Creek – the Bulldogs turned the tables, stealing points before starting to impose their will over the course of a three-set win over the visiting Bobcats.
“The bigger the competition, the better they play,” said head coach Lacey Murphy after the victory, “and that’s been a big part of the mental aspect of the game that we’ve been working on as a team.”
Ignacio head coach Shasta Pontine had her Bobcats ready for the task, as the visitors hung tough in the opening set, before succumbing to the Bulldogs 25-20.
Bobcat seniors Trinity Strohl and Laci Brunson helped the Bobcats put together a solid point string in the second set to pull the Bobcats within 14-13.
That’s when the match changed.
Dove Creek responded with a decisive 6-0 after a timeout, headlined by a kill from junior Kylie Gatlin, all with senior Rylee Hickman at the service line.
Buoyant with the confidence that makes Dove Creek one of the toughest volleyball teams – regardless of classification – west of the Continental Divide, the Bulldogs made the Bobcats pay for any small mistake, pulling away with a Lexi Gray spike at the middle of the net to put the hosts in front 24-15. Then, on set point, senior outside hitter Trista Barnett launched an emphatic spike down the line to put Dove Creek up two sets.
Even after Ignacio took the opening three points of the third set, Dove Creek proved unflappable, responding with a 7-0 run to seize firm control. Ralynn Hickman poured across a series of unreturnable serves to expand the lead, while Gray blocked Ignacio attacks on two consecutive points to put the match out of reach.
“Lexi reads the setter so well, and she brings such a consistent level of play,” applauded Murphy of her senior middle, “and she’s able to get to the place where she needs to be every time.”
Rylee Hickman provided the assist for her sister on match point, as Ralynn powered through the ball with her right hand to cap the sweep, 25-16.
The Bulldogs sit No. 3 in the state’s 1A classification, according to the most recent CHSAA coaches poll, but the midseason recognition means little to the overall goals of Murphy’s squad.
“We talked about postseason goals before the season, but we’ve decided we’re not going to talk about it again until we’re at that point,” added Murphy, “It’s been our focus to make sure we’re doing the little things right in each of matches along the way.”
The next step in that journey takes the Bulldogs into an intriguing third meeting against the Mancos Bluejays (6-3, 2-1 2A/1A SJBL) on Tuesday, Sept. 20, on the road. The Bulldogs captured their first two meetings, but have been made to work hard by Mancos. Tuesday’s encounter will also be the lone encounter that factors into the league standings, where Dove Creek holds the top spot.