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Play in Mancos preps ’Cats for M-CHS

Ignacio volleyball off to 2-0 start
Ignacio's Trinity Strohl attempts a spike against Mancos' Haylie Higgins (12) during Tuesday night's match inside MHS Gymnasium. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Having pounded a kill off the block of Mancos’ Haylie Higgins to mercifully conclude a hot-and-cold first game Tuesday night, one could see Alexis Pontine was at last truly ready to help visiting Ignacio take command.

And after immediately downing a back-row kill to knock Jay Jessie Wallace off serve starting Game 2, Pontine went back to the service line, one of her favorite places on a volleyball court from which to wreak havoc.

Seemingly looking ahead to Thursday night’s home opener inside IHS Gymnasium, Pontine more or less crushed MHS’ hopes with an array of varying aces. First, a perfectly placed dart to the deep corner, followed by a gem so short it barely crept over the net and well out of libero Shelby Jabour’s reach.

Third was an unplayable offering forced through the top of the net, catching all blue-and-white-clad players practically flat-footed, and fourth a rocket into the middle of Mancos’ back row, which Jasmine Martinez couldn’t field.

“Lexi Pontine, she’s a hammer,” said Mancos head coach Brianna Yeomans-Allison, taking over this fall from spring skipper Staci Greenlee. “I really enjoy watching her play; she’s going to bring it everywhere she’s coming from.”

“Well, I played club with some of those girls, know strengths and weaknesses,” Pontine said. “And I was looking at spots on the court that were open, and how their people were looking tonight – and just decided based on that.”

“I think whenever we have a good, strong run their energy stays high,” noted Ignacio head coach Shasta Pontine, who took charge this season from Melanie Seibel. “That’s what really helps drive them.”

After Mancos finally managed to pass a Pontine serve, junior Audrey Stockton netted an attack – increasing the guests’ lead to 11-3 before Pontine narrowly missed another deep-corner attempt. The damage was done, however; the Jays got no closer than 14-9, before Shasta Pontine called timeout and junior Grace Gonzales responded with a cross-court kill.

IHS’ lead would then regrow to 19-9 before the Volleycats decelerated ever so slightly down the stretch. Junior Trinity Strohl would ace Martinez to bring up game point, 24-15, before Wallace managed to out-joust Gonzales. Again, Coach Pontine was quick to quash any resulting Mancos momentum with a timeout, and the ’Cats went up 2-0 in the match when Jabour netted her serve after the short stoppage.

Ignacio's Grace Gonzales (10) skies for an uncontested spike during Tuesday night's match at Mancos.(Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

“We missed more serves than I wanted tonight, you know, and that really hurts us when we’re giving away points,” Yeomans-Allison said. “The first (game) we were in there, and we were playing. It seems when we start making errors … it just snowballs on us, and then we have a hard time digging back out. And I think that’s where we need leadership to come into play.”

Gonzales began Game 3 on serve, and would book the first point with a back-row kill. Alexis Pontine followed with a kill from the front, and before the home team knew what hit them, the Jays were down 7-1 after a Strohl kill off Higgins. Replacing the graduated Marisa Carmenoros at setter, sophomore Kacey Brown would show her own serving skill, with consecutive unplayable deliveries which swelled IHS’ lead to 11-3.

“I am a new setter as probably a lot of people know,” she said afterward, “but my teammates and my coaches – and my family – have really been helping me out. And coach … usually she’ll tell us where to serve, but if they change then we’ll usually find a hole ourselves and go there.”

Mancos would fight back to as close as 12-7, before gifting Ignacio a point via an errant free ball, then surrendering two more via a Strohl ace and a kill by senior Lexy Young. Gonzales then tipped a point off Stockton, and after Strohl dropped in a very short ace just over the strings, Yeomans-Allison took a timeout despite the writing being very much on the wall.

With MHS trailing 23-10, the ’Cats earned the serve at match point when the Jays committed a rotation infraction on IHS sophomore Solymar Cosio’s serve, which visibly looked to land for an ace anyway. Cosio’s next serve was successfully handled, but Mancos sophomore kill machine Teya Yeomans’ swing sailed long – finalizing a 25-22, 25-16, 25-10 Ignacio sweep coming on the heels of their season-opening 27-25, 25-10, 25-12 romp last Friday at rebuilding Ridgway.

“Our team … we’re really getting along and we’re connecting well; I think the energy makes all the difference,” said Alexis Pontine. “We’re just really excited for the season; I think that’s the main difference.”

Now 2-0 overall and 2-0 in the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League, the ’Cats will next face their toughest foe yet when defending 3A Intermountain League champs Montezuma-Cortez – state tournament semifinalists in the spring – visits Thursday.

And despite having graduated a truckload of talent – including middle/outside hitters Myka Glover and Kylie Lake, middle/opposite Devon McHenry, libero Amber Wood and setter/defensive specialist Leigha Comisky – the Panthers will arrive standing 3-0 overall with senior OH/MH Avery Wright their well-known primary weapon.

Setter Dez Boeckmann also returns for her senior year, as does OH/DS Sariah Robinson.

“We’ll see how that goes; it’s going to be good,” Pontine said. “I’m really excited for that (match).”

“I think we have a good chance,” stated Brown. “Cortez is tough, but we’re tough too.”

New Ignacio Volleyball head coach Shasta Pontine, right, and libero Laci Brunson (white jersey) appear to play a game of “mirror” while observing Mancos' warmups Tuesday night inside MHS Gymnasium. Pontine's Volleycats would win 3-0, improving their match record to 2-0 overall entering Thursday night's home opener. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Having last led Ignacio at 8-7 in Game 1 (before rallying as close as 24-22) Tuesday night, Mancos (0-2, 0-1 SJBL) will next see action Tuesday, in Durango against 4A DHS’ JV, then return to host 1A SJBLers Norwood on Sept. 10.

“We’re young, still trying to condition,” said Yeomans-Allison, “but I think we have a lot of potential. It’s just a matter of getting reps, getting a lot of playing time together and knowing when to dig deep … turn to that player that turns the team around.”

“Trusting each other, establishing that team unity … I think once we get there they’ll be a team to be reckoned with.”

On Tuesday, Ignacio suffered its first loss to Cortez, 3-1. IHS won game 3, 25-17, but MCHS won the rest 25-17, 25-16 and 25-20.