Volleycat varsity a tough out at Simla Invite Top-10s prep IHS for fiver with scrappy Soroco

Ignacio’s Divine Windy Boy (10) hits cross-court past Simla’s Kegan Hamacher (left), Riley Maranville (2) and Taylor Warnecke (5) during the Sept. 22, Simla Invitational.
Ignacio’s Reyna Cruz (19) stops a Kit Carson Lady Wildcat’s spike during the Sept. 22, Simla Invitational.
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum

Highlighting the team’s most vital scoring streak of a trying Saturday, two Kiana Valdez service aces – one placed deep and near the baseline, the other into the short corner just over the net, and both seemingly replying to consecutive enemy gems targeting Emilia Price moments before – late in Game Two against Oak Creek-based Soroco gave Ignacio hope when it appeared to have been lost.

Coupled with junior Makayla Howell’s improvised, successful no-look backside dink through the Lady Rams’ front row, Valdez’s clutch serving helped the Volleycats erase a 21-17 deficit, set themselves up at game point when Howell emphatically crushed a Soroco over-pass, and ultimately win their first game of the Sept. 22nd Simla Invitational, 25-22, when SHS freshman Sophia Benjamin netted a serve.

“I think everyone played amazingly,” Valdez said afterwards.  “And those serves were just … awesome!  So fun!”

“We’ve just got to work on communicating, keeping our heads up and working hard,” fellow senior Divine Windy Boy said.  “We have really great servers that play really smart, and I think that really pushed us.  The way we serve … messes with their minds, and I love that.”

Having evened the fifth-place match at one game to one, IHS began Game Three confidently with freshman Alexis Pontine landing two untouched aces and senior Amethyst ‘Misty’ Egger-Morris smashing an over-pass kill.  But after a Howell spike down the line out of libero Grace Olinger’s reach put the ’Cats up 24-22, the Lady Rams re-upped the ante when sophomore Makinley Parker – who’d zeroed in on Price earlier – downed a kill and junior Tyla Johnson placed a dink into Ignacio’s center.

Two gutsy putaways by Windy Boy, however, energized IHS into a 29-27 win and 2-1 lead in the contest – which followed losses in pool play to Simla, #9 in the CHSAANow.com Class 2A poll going in, and Kit Carson, #1 in 1A and the defending 1A State Champion.

Only in Game Two against the tournament-hosting side, a 26-24 loss, did the ’Cats look their competitive selves, and only in Game Three against KCHS did they again reach double figures on the scoreboard as Simla won 25-6, 26-24, 25-9, and the Lady Wildcats – who’d actually dropped a game, only their third in 114 dating back to 2017, during a 3-1 win over the locals – prevailed 25-8, 25-8, 25-16.

“The Simla game we were just kind of slow, and I don’t think we had our energy.  We were playing really hard the Kit Carson game; it was some good back-and-forth,” said Howell, whose 1-v-1 stuff of KCHS senior middle Olivia Isenbart late in Game Two was unquestionably the team’s shining moment.

Isenbart responded by blocking Egger-Morris for a point, twisting down an unexpected one-handed dump to put Kit Carson up 2-0 in the clash, then scoring four of KCHS’ first five Game 3 points—the latter two by roofing a Pontine set, then crushing an IHS over-pass for a 5-3 advantage which quickly grew to an insurmountable 18-5.

“We learned a lot from [the losses]: We’ve got to go quick, and cover, cover!” stated Valdez.  “And playing this dynamically-good team (Soroco) where they pick up every single ball, we had to hustle and it was really good.”

“Against big teams like Simla and Kit Carson … it really tires us out,” Windy Boy said.  “But we … pushed through.”

Soroco struck back quickly in Game Four, not allowing the Volleycats to build off senior Reyna Cruz’s ace giving Ignacio an early 4-3 lead, and reeling off eight unanswered points to re-take charge en route to forcing a Game 5, 25-12, via senior Katelyn Olinger’s ace of Howell.

“It’s all about just staying calm.  We, like, psyche ourselves out even though we pass way better serves than that,” said Howell.  “Honestly … I think we have the best serves, so we’re working on the best serves when we serve to each other.”

Rapidly finding themselves trailing 10-3 in the tiebreaker, and later up against match point at 14-7, Ignacio nearly pulled off one last comeback.  A Howell ace brought the ’Cats back to 14-11, and a Lady Ram pass to nobody made the score 14-12 before a double-contact infraction against IHS gave Soroco a wild 25-15, 22-25, 27-29, 25-12, 15-12 victory.

“Covering, watching their arms … Defense is a very important aspect of the game, and we learned that by being here,” Howell stated.  “It’s always so intense … because we’re playing the best teams.  These teams are good and you can’t come out here to just mess around; you have to play hard.”

Kit Carson would later sweep Dayspring Christian Academy 25-16, 25-9, 25-12 to earn the Invitational’s championship and improved to 10-0 overall while DCA returned to Greeley 5-6.  Simla (8-4), meanwhile, used a 20-25, 25-17, 25-18, 19-25, 15-11 effort to save third place against Hoehne (8-7).

Dayspring, Simla and Hoehne had all qualified for the 2017 Class 2A State Championships, once again giving the small-scale Invitational some serious, concentrated punch strengthened even more by heavyweight KCHS’ inclusion.  Soroco returned to Colorado’s northwest standing 6-7 overall, while an eighth straight setback dropped IHS to 2-9.

“Regardless of a win or loss, this means a lot to us because we learned from our past mistakes, and we’ll get better each practice,” said Windy Boy.  “Each game we’re working harder.  And I think the community doesn’t see … everything that we do and everything that we earn.”

Up next for Ignacio will be 2A/1A San Juan Basin League action Saturday, Sept. 29, at Nucla, with a trip to Mancos following on Oct. 2.  Results from the Volleycats’ 9/25 home match versus 3A Pagosa Springs were unavailable at press time.

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