Bears volleyball has been the model of consistency for the better part of the past two decades.
A steady hand at the helm has played a large part – as Gina Hollen enters her 14th season guiding the Bears program. So, even with an influx of talent finding their niche in this year’s edition of DHS volleyball, the Bears look to once again continue their status as one of the top programs in 2A volleyball.
The Bears have enjoyed five straight winning seasons, and with the graduation of San Juan Basin League Player of the Year Erin Brown, the offense looks to take on a new dynamic under the leadership of four seniors.
Fourth-year Chandler Smith was the team’s second-leading kill producer in 2021 behind Brown and looks to emerge in a versatile role for Hollen’s Bears this year. Her strong nose for the ball will see her shift into a setter role for the Bears, looking to set up a variety of players emerging at the outside and middle hitting positions.
Classmates Kristen Kemp, Akima Edwards and junior Mikayla Puett look to occupy the front line alongside senior Sharma Chaffee. Puett and sophomore Alyssa Brittain, a strong defensive presence for the Bears, join Smith as the trio of players who saw varsity action from a year ago.
Freshman Keeley Clark steps into a libero role in her first sets of high school action, ready to provide the Bears with a backline spark.
“We have a lot of talent this year,” said the Dolores head coach, “and we’re going to continue to build in confidence as the season progresses.”
With the injection of players into new spots on the floor, the Bears look to grow with their new identity heading into a rigorous SJBL season. After a 14-11 season and a trip to the 2A regionals from a year ago, the Bears look to factor prominently into the league chase yet again. Winners of three of the past five league regular season titles, the Bears open up SJBL play on Tuesday, Aug. 30, in Nucla, before a series of tough league matches in mid-September.
“It’s going to be a tough league again this year,” said Hollen, “but it’s fun to have so many good programs in our league, and it makes each match a challenge.”
Meetings with Mancos of Sept. 8 and 29 form the bookends of a tough stretch that includes league-aspirant Ignacio. A trip to Dove Creek in mid-October before Senior Day on Oct. 20 against Telluride gets the Bears ready for their postseason push, as they hope to qualify for yet another 2A regional spot.
Shaking off a slow start against visiting Norwood, Dolores used a furious first set rally to turn the tide in a 3-1 (27-25, 25-8, 21-25, 25-11) victory.
Trailing 22-16 in the opener, Dolores (1-1) scored six unanswered points, before Smith gave the Bears the lead at 26-25 with a well-placed set-kill. Then, on set point, Smith served up an ace to provide the home team with all the momentum.
“We tried a number of different things with our back line,” said Hollen of some of the changes that the Bears made mid-match, “and it makes us more dynamic.”
Dolores surged in the second set, bursting to a 16-8 advantage on a kill from Kemp, before Clark took the ball for service and made sure that Norwood wouldn’t get another opportunity to touch it. The freshman served nine straight points, including an ace on set point to give the Bears a 2-0 advantage.
The Mavericks played some of their best volleyball of the match in a 25-21 third set victory, but their celebration would be short-lived.
“We know that we’ll make mistakes,” Hollen added, “but it’ll be our ability to shake off the bad moments and refocus our energy every time the ball gets served that’ll make us a better team.”
The Bears restored their dominance in the final set, as Smith found a variety of different outlets for her passes, and the Bears forced Norwood on the defensive in an emphatic 25-11 final stanza. Puett’s kill finished the night, and the Bears earned the first notch in their belt this season.
Dolores will finish up their season-opening three match homestand on Monday, Aug. 29 against Pagosa Springs.