One could almost sense Thursday night that visiting Mancos, not wanting to go quietly, had done just enough to prolong the San Juan Basin League action into a fourth game.
Having led the hosting Ignacio Volleycats on just four occasions for a grand total of four points, it appeared the Lady Jays were done after Ignacio senior Alexis Pontine crushed a kill and increased IHS’ third-game lead to 19-13. But after Pontine’s subsequent serve snagged in the strings, Mancos’ players seemed to realize they’d just been tossed something of a life raft.
Mancos junior libero Shelby Jabour dropped an ace curving downward so sharply as to render futile counterpart Trinity Strohl’s headlong dive, the visitors began creeping back into contention and first cut the lead down to a single point, 21-20, when the Jays’ block managed to somehow deny ’Cat junior Grace Gonzales.
Who, admittedly, was starting to run on proverbial fumes after an intense few days of preparation.
“We’ve been doing a lot of hitting in practice with our setter Laci (Brunson), and I think my body finally got to me – telling me to ‘Calm down!’” Gonzales said afterward with a laugh. “But I think I … came through for my team.”
“Kacey was hurt, so I stepped in, and even when she came back … I stayed,” said Brunson (30 assists), addressing her ongoing progression from libero to No. 1 distributor, taking pressure off younger heir-apparent Brown. “And it’s been really good; I enjoy it way more than passing. I feel like I need to touch the ball every time, but yeah, I really love it. I just need practice.”
Mancos fought back to 23-22 before Gonzales placed a crucial roll shot from out of the back row to bring up match point.
And out came the pins and needles
Having led the session ever since going up 9-8, IHS’ advantage finally disappeared when Pontine hit a kill shot off the near-side antenna, and Brunson then ended the night’s most sustained back-and-forth, playing a free ball too high and into the ceiling and pressing IHS skipper Shasta Pontine to take a timeout with the score a tense 24-24.
And with an intuition that, in the mind of opposing head coach Brianna Yeomans-Allison, it might be ‘Teya time.’
“Yes,” Pontine said. “Their defense is getting better, and so we really focused on trying to keep them out of system with serving so Teya couldn’t get a handle on some things.”
Teya Yeomans hadn’t been as much a match-changer as feared. Fortunately for Mancos, junior Audrey Stockton and sophomore Haylie Higgins had both been playing hard at the net, but there was still a prevalent sense that the time was right to unleash a certain nail-driving sophomore beast.
Upon coming out of Pontine’s pause, however, the ’Cats didn’t let the contest come to that.
“Our team is good defense-wise, at getting blocks up and being able to get touches, and our middle backs – with our libero Trinity (Strohl; 14 digs) – are consistent communicating in the back,” said Gonzales, who posted an 11-kill, 13 dig double-double.
Always aggressive in looking for quick put-aways at the net, IHS sophomore Solymar Cosio snapped the tie with a tip shot, allowing Brunson to then serve a flat, knuckle-balling floater parallel to the far line. After a teammate elected not to receive the ball and instead let it zip over her left shoulder, Jabour unluckily ended up a half-step slow in covering the deep corner and the ace secured Ignacio a 25-17, 25-16, 26-24 sweep.
“It did feel like we were kind of coasting, but I don’t know; it was just kind of a weird game,” said Alexis Pontine, who racked up 17 kills, six aces and 13 digs. “But I’m glad we ended up winning; that was good.”
It was the fifth straight win for the Volleycats (now 9-2 overall, 6-1 2A/1A SJBL, 6-0 2A SJBL), and it came on a night when co-captains Pontine and Lexy Young (4 kills, 16 digs), plus JV/V swing player Elisia Cruz and JV regular Yllana Howe tried keeping emotions in check as they read aloud prematch speeches thanking their families and supporters. The speeches were part of the team’s Senior Night, which was an added Homecoming Week 2021 attraction.
Mancos (5-8 overall, 0-6 2A/1A SJBL, 0-5 2A SJBL), meanwhile, will host Ridgway (4-11, 0-6, 0-4)at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Match figures for the Lady Jays had not been tallied by press time.