Having raised the bar higher during the fall 2021 season than any Ignacio volleyball squad had in roughly a generation, the returning ’Cats will be eager to keep it there in ’22.
“They’re coming off a ‘high,’” second-year head coach Shasta Pontine said, alluding to IHS’ march to last fall’s CHSAA Class 2A State Championships in Colorado Springs, “and hopefully they can continue with … building the Ignacio program. That’s what’s exciting.”
Having already seen the Volleycats (19-8 overall in ’21) begin sharpening their skills at two team camps this summer, long before practices officially began on Monday, Pontine indicated she’d already seen much of the potential last season’s squad presented – and will again rely upon this season – to succeed.
“Adams State (University’s camp) was … just about kind of getting back into it, remembering that ‘Oh yeah, we know how to play volleyball,’” she recalled. “The first couple days were rough, but the third day we came together and played well.”
“Then Fort Lewis College’s was good. We lost only to Portales (17-9, NMAA Class 4A State qualifier in ’21) and Farmington (12-11, fourth place in NMAA District 2-5A), and I didn’t even have a full ‘varsity’ team – we filled it in with players who played JV last year – but it was good.”
“And then we had the Fort Lewis coaches come to Ignacio and do a one-day camp with some of the players,” Pontine noted. “That wasn’t very many – it was, like, six players – so it was very one-on-one.”
Definitely a plus, considering vacancies left by graduated standouts Alexis Pontine and Lexy Young need filling.
“We’re going to have to replace a big outside and a big right-side … and we’ll probably have to find a new libero,” Pontine said.
Pontine will be assisted this fall by returning junior-varsity coach Cindy Valdez plus new C-team coach Breana Talamante-Benavidez.
“Everything changes, and we’ll see what personnel we have … to go forward. See who we have, teach them what we can teach them, and do the best we can!”
After a tuneup at 3A Pagosa Springs’ annual Pirate 4 Corners Scrimmages on Saturday, IHS will begin competition Aug. 23 at 3A Montezuma-Cortez. Ignacio will then head east to nonleague 2A Del Norte on the 25th. 2A/1A San Juan Basin League work – in which the ’Cats went 8-0 against their 2A-level rivals last season – is scheduled to get underway Aug. 30 with a trip to Mancos.
Ignacio’s schedule currently shows the ’Cats not having a home match until Sept. 16 for SJBL play against Ridgway. By then, the crew will likely have already gotten a great glimpse of the postseason they’ll hope to again reach.
“We got invited to the West Grand tournament (in Kremmling) over Labor Day weekend,” Pontine said, “and we also got invited to the Denver Christian tournament. What I heard was that it’s just teams that made state last year who got invited! So we’re going to that one on the 10th of September.”
“I haven’t seen the schedule; I just got kind of a list (of teams) when we said we’d go,” she said. “And there was Holyoke and Meeker, Denver Christian, Sedgwick County. ... I heard Hoehne also got invited, but I don’t think they’re going because their schedule was full by the time they got invited. So it’ll be a good tournament.”
Champion of a 3A/2A/1A Mile High League last fall, Denver Christian finished 20-8 overall after going 1-2 at state. Ruler of the 2A/1A Lower Platte, Sedgwick County ended up 25-3 after a four-game win over fellow northeasterners Holyoke (23-8) in the state championship game. Western Slope champ Meeker, a Final Four participant inside The Broadmoor World Arena, went 26-3.
At present, the updated field also includes 2A MHLers Littleton Front Range Christian (11-11 in 2021), 2A Southern Peaks member Sanford (14-10), and now-2A/1A Union Pacific inclusion Strasburg (14-10, 3-7 3A Patriot last season).
“The rest is just kind of ‘our’ schedule,” said Pontine. “I mean, we’ll play Cortez, Pagosa, we added Sargent again …. But then the rest (of our matches) are just league. And I’m excited; it’ll be awesome.”
Final fall 2021 2A/1A SJBL standings: 1. Dove Creek, 2. Ignacio, 3. Dolores, 4. Telluride, 5. Nucla, 6. Mancos, 7. Ridgway, 8.Norwood.
First team all-SJBL (*can return in 2022): Kalie Gatlin,* Lexi Gray* and Kylie Gatlin* of Dove Creek; Alexis Pontine, Grace Gonzales* and Laci Brunson* of Ignacio; Erin Brown (POY) and Kamri Willbanks of Dolores; Emma Righetti* of Telluride; Shailah Franklin and Lisa Sutherland of Nucla; and Jaidyn Platt of Norwood.
Second team: Shania Kibel and Trista Barnett* of Dove Creek; Lexy Young and Solymar Cosio* of Ignacio; Chandler Smith* of Dolors; Zoe Rommel of Telluride; Keelee Redd and Morgan Weimer* of Nucla; Teya Yeomans* of Mancos; Isabella Janda of Ridgway; and Gabby Flores of Norwood.
Honorable mention: Valentina Tarini of Dolores; Thea Rommel* of Telluride; Shelby Jabour* of Mancos; and Aynsleigh Wood of Ridgway.