DENVER – Dove Creek head coach Lacey Murphy made the observation – the bigger the moment, the better her team rises to the occasion.
Her squad made those words ring true on the Denver Coliseum floor, as the Bulldogs staved off two elimination matches on Friday to extend their season to Championship Saturday for the second time in the past three years.
Wins over No. 10 Cheraw (25-20, 25-22, 25-18) and No. 5 Otis (21-25, 25-18, 25-20, 25-20) moved the Bulldogs to within one win of the state semifinals, as they join a field of six teams remaining in the 1A classification vying for a state title.
Dove Creek (25-3) controlled their morning session match against the Wolverines (20-6) almost from the opening serve.
“After yesterday’s loss to Merino, we discussed playing more aggressive,” said Murphy of her team’s early success, “the girls really stepped up in their roles and were playing more confident.”
The victory ushered the ‘Dogs into the second round of the contenders bracket and a meeting with Otis (19-8), with the state field continuing to dwindle to the classification’s elite squads. In a battle of the Bulldogs, the squad from northeast Colorado landed the first punches of the contest, winning a couple of marathon points back-to-back to break a 19-all deadlock and propel Otis to a first set victory.
Then, breaking from the huddle between sets, a completely different Dove Creek squad emerged. Playing inspired volleyball, Dove Creek became a blur of blue and yellow, flying to every free ball, and making Otis work for every point. The high-energy attack paid dividends, as senior Halee Beanland collected a pair of kills early in the set as part of a 4-1 run to give the ‘Dogs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Junior Jenessa Barragan, sophomore Hadley Hatfield, and the Dove Creek back line extended countless points, while senior Kylie Gatlin started to get into a rhythm at the net. A Gatlin kill pushed the advantage to 21-15, before junior Ralynn Hickman stuffed the final Otis attack of the frame for a block on set point.
“I think they’re finally putting it together,” said Murphy of her team’s resolve and complete-team effort, “we’ve been pushing to go to the next level, and stay aggressive from start to finish.”
The run continued into the third set, even after falling behind 5-1 – the ‘Dogs scrapped back to tie the set at 8, before sophomore Allex Williams provided a huge momentum boost by posting a strong service sequence, as Dove Creek turned a deficit into an 18-12 lead on a 7-0 run.
Otis briefly closed to within three, but Dove Creek’s hustle once again staved off the Bulldogs from getting closer. Hickman and Kylie Gatlin posted back-to-back kills to finish out the set and move Dove Creek within one frame of the next round.
Dove Creek turned around another early-set deficit in the fourth, rallying from three down to knot the score at 10. A double block from Hickman and senior Kalie Gatlin sparked the surge, while Kalie would later add another solo block to put Dove Creek in front 17-16.
Kylie Gatlin’s rampant day at the net continued moments later, with a crushed attack down the heart of the Otis defense beginning to close the door, followed by Hickman’s equally punishing kill to put the match away.
“This was a great win, and I’m excited to see them put it all together again and see the success they’re capable of,” added Murphy.
Now, as the moments continue to escalate, Dove Creek climbs within one win of the program’s first state semifinal since 2013. Their path pits the ‘Dogs against No. 3 McClave (23-3) in the third round of the contenders bracket, with the winner moving on to face defending champion Merino in the state semifinal. Dove Creek’s clash with the Cardinals is set for 8 a.m. from the floor of the Denver Coliseum, with the winner playing at 12 p.m. in the semifinals. The state championship match is slated for 6 p.m.