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Dove Creek volleyball aims to regain heights

M-CHS junior Avery Wright spikes the ball into the hands of Dove Creek sophomores Lexi Gray and Trista Barnett in this archived photo. (Journal file photo)
Bulldogs hope to duplicate banner season

Anyone who steps on to the court against the Bulldogs better be ready.

Another talented group under head coach Lacey Murphy takes center stage this fall, as Dove Creek seeks a return trip to the 1A state championships.

A season ago, the ‘Dogs wrapped up a 24-6 campaign just one win away from the state semifinal round, and return an experienced core of upperclassmen for a pursuit of another San Juan Basin League title and a run at the state’s top prize.

Five returning starters headline the Creek core, led by seniors Trista Barnett and Lexi Gray.

“They’re fantastic leaders,” said Murphy of her two Class of 2023 student-athletes, “and they’ve been able to lead by example, setting the tone for the rest of the team.”

Part of the danger of the Dove Creek offense came from its balance, as four returners amassed at least 90 kills and 30 aces from last year, including juniors Kalie and Kylie Gatlin. Kylie led the team in kills, while her sister handled the primary setting duties, dishing out more than 700 assists on the season.

Gray and the Gatlins all finished on the first team All-SJBL last season, while Barnett was named to the second team.

Dove Creek sophomore Kylie Gatlin prepares to serve in this file photo. (Journal file photo)

Sophomore Ralynn Hickman emerged as a rising star during her freshman season and looks to continue her growth as a versatile weapon in the Bulldogs attack.

A number of players have battled to earn time in the highly competitive Bulldog rotation, according to Murphy, “which is a great situation to have.”

“I’m not sure this team fully realizes how much talent they have,” added Murphy, “but beating some 5A teams during the offseason will hopefully help their confidence grow.”

Dove Creek scheduled a tough nonleague slate to help brace the Bulldogs for the potential rigors of postseason play. A tournament in Rangely opens the slate on the weekend of Aug. 19-20 before Dove Creek opens up its home schedule with a date against Mancos on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Matches against M-CHS and Alamosa headline the matches outside of the SJBL, as the Bulldogs hope to duplicate their league title from a year ago. Meetings with fellow league-title aspirants Ignacio and Dolores in mid-September and early October will give the Bulldogs an additional test before the district and regional play that follows Halloween.

“This is a group that doesn’t back down from a challenge,” said Murphy of her squad, “and as long as they continue to work hard, they’re going to meet the high goals that they have for themselves.”