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Dove Creek Bulldogs advance to state volleyball semifinals

Dove Creek's Kylie Gatlin (23) looks to tip away from Haxtun's Cassidy Goddard (7) during Day 1 action Thursday at the 2023 CHSAA Class 1A State Volleyball Championships inside the Denver Coliseum. Joel Priest/Special to The Journal
Comeback win over McClave continues Dove Creek run

DENVER – In Frank Sinatra’s words, “The best revenge is massive success.”

For the Dove Creek volleyball team, it’s hard to imagine a sweeter success as part of their dreamlike state tournament run.

Their latest victory came at the expense of McClave, with whom the Bulldogs have developed a strong rivalry over the course of the past three years. While their latest encounter was on the basketball court, the Cardinal and Bulldog volleyball rosters have plenty of players who shared the court just eight months ago in McClave’s 1A state semifinal basketball victory.

This time, Dove Creek walked away all smiles after eliminating the Cardinals in a thrilling four-setter, 22-25, 25-12, 25-17, 26-24, to earn the program’s first semifinal appearance in a decade. The victory also marked the third time this tournament that Dove Creek rallied from a set down to come back with a win.

McClave squeaked past Lacey Murphy’s Bulldogs in set one, 25-22, as the ‘Dogs once again saw themselves in a hole.

Placement superseded power in the second set against the Cardinals, as senior Kylie Gatlin found pockets on the floor where McClave couldn’t reach, building a nine-point lead at 17-8. Twin sister Kalie Gatlin made life miserable at the net for Cardinal hitters, picking up blocks on consecutive points to extend the lead to 19-9.

Sophomore Hadley Hatfield belted kills on back-to-back points to keep the Bulldog bench fired up, before junior Ralynn Hickman’s service sequence put the set away, 25-12.

In the third, the Bulldogs got back to the heavy hitting, jolting an 8-1 run behind the power of Kylie Gatlin and Hickman to build a 14-7 lead mid-frame.

Meanwhile, the lively play that aided the Bulldogs to extended points in wins over Cheraw and Otis served them well again. Williams and Hatfield made a number of diving digs to sustain plays that eventually led to Bulldog kills. The lead ballooned to 20-12, and Dove Creek kept McClave at arm’s length for the rest of the set, with Hickman’s kill icing the 25-17 third set win.

The third-ranked Cardinals (23-4) jumped out on Dove Creek in the fourth, blocking multiple DC attacks while constructing a 7-0 start. Dove Creek began to chip away, closing with 11-7, thanks to working around the blocking walls with some well-placed set attacks. The energy was squarely back on the Dove Creek side after a 5-0 run knotted the score at 12 with senior Halee Beanland at the service line.

Hatfield and sophomore Allex Williams helped continue to turn the tide with strong serve strings, as Dove Creek took their first lead of the set at 19-18. From there, the ‘Dogs extended the lead to 23-20, only to see McClave rally for four straight points to take the lead back, 24-23.

Big plays in big moments, it’s been the Bulldog mantra all tournament – Dove Creek staved off set point, then Hickman came up with the point of the match with a smash from the middle of the net to put down a McClave pass.

The Cardinals couldn’t return the serve on match point, and Dove Creek clinched their spot in the state semifinals.

Dove Creek (26-3) advances to the state semifinals to face No. 1 Merino (25-1), who dealt the Bulldogs their lone loss of the tournament, in the state semifinals at 12 p.m.