Fri Sep 10th, 2021
Special to the Drum
IHS loses home opener in four to M-CHS
Maybe a bit miffed over being bumped out of the CHSAANow.com Class 3A rankings’ top ten despite recording a 3-0 start to the Fall 2021 volleyball season, Montezuma-Cortez made something of a statement Thursday night, Sept. 2, as they traveled to Ignacio – off to a 2-0 start themselves.
Having already tripped 2A/1A San Juan Basin League contenders, Telluride in a season-opening five-gamer inside the MinerDome, then having swept SJBL frontrunners Dolores, and then having swept 1A Monticello, Utah, at MHS prior to invading IHS Gymnasium – where the Volleycats were hungry to follow up on a road sweep of SJBLers Mancos two nights before – the Lady Panthers passed yet another test in prevailing 25-17, 25-16, 17-25, 25-20 to remain undefeated.
“This was a different-caliber team; they hit on us more,” said Ignacio head coach Shasta Pontine, who matched wits in the match against new M-CHS skipper Caroline Glover, “and we just hadn’t had that experience yet this year.”
Justifiably keyed up following season-opening road wins at Ridgway and MHS, the ’Cats found their Game 1 rhythm disrupted by no fewer than 13 point-surrendering errors, fell behind at 6-5 and never recovered despite back-to-back Alexis Pontine service aces at Lady Panther Elinore Muhonen’s expense – bringing the ’Cats back to as close as 20-16 before junior Trinity Strohl served out of bounds on the second game point.
Classmate Grace Gonzales quickly made amends opening Game 2, however, hammering a kill and knocking Sariah Robinson off the service line. Pontine then stuffed down an M-CHS overpass of a Gonzales serve, and Gonzales followed that with an ace for a strong 3-0 advantage.
But after senior Avery Wright, lightly used offensively during the match until Games 3 and 4, pounded a back-row kill, Montezuma-Cortez (4-0, 0-0 3A Intermountain) quickly regained the upper hand at 5-4 and would strengthen it to 10-4, helped by two Elise Galbraith service gems and a Wright stuff of IHS setter Kacey Brown.
The guests’ lead swiftly swelled to 19-9 after a Gonzales swing went off the antenna, and Coach Pontine was forced to burn her second timeout of the stanza, but little came of it; Brown would send a free ball out of play to put M-CHS on game point, and the Lady Panthers went up 2-0 in the match when Wright and junior Madi Carver combined to deny a Strohl spike.
M-CHS would then ride an initial Wright back-row kill and two subsequent Ignacio errors out to a 10-3 lead in Game 3, and Coach Pontine quickly called a timeout, knowing the Lady Panthers were poised to bring about an early end to the evening.
But something in the Volleycats (2-1, 2-0 SJBL) clicked, and a successful Harmony Reynolds tip shot plus a Gonzales ace capped a four-point burst which pressed Glover – previously the assistant to Spring ’21 boss Joye McHenry – into a timeout with Ignacio down only a point, 12-11.
IHS would equalize at 13-13, then steadily build a lead which hit 21-14 via an Alexis Pontine kill, and later 23-16 via a Strohl put-away. Strohl then served long, but the ’Cats emphatically clawed back into the match when Gonzales brought up game point with a kill, and senior Lexy Young then aced M-CHS junior libero Ashlyn Hall.
“I know they can play like that all the time,” said Pontine, “but I think nerves got the best of them in the beginning.”
With the home crowd now in full voice behind them, the ’Cats never let Montezuma-Cortez gain a lead larger than two points for most of Game 4, and took an 11-10 lead when Young landed another unplayable serve. The Lady Panthers then pulled ahead, 14-12, via a Galbraith tip, but Ignacio then eased in front, 15-14, via a Gonzales back-row kill and an M-CHS double-contact infraction. The sides would then deadlock at 15, 16, 17 and 18 before the visitors moved ahead 20-18.
Shasta Pontine alertly called a timeout, and Gonzales responded with a re-energizing kill. But a passing error, a kill by M-CHS junior Carlie McClellan, and a Robinson serve Strohl couldn’t control put IHS down 23-19. Robinson would net her next serve, following Pontine’s second timeout, but Wright would crack another back-row kill and the match ended when Alexis Pontine was unable to smack a high set both inside the antenna and over the net.
“I think in that third set we definitely could have gone downhill, we could have gotten in our head … . But we rose up, fought in that fourth set, which I think is super important,” said Wright. “It was a good game; it definitely tested our strength.”
“Once we … started to adjust, our defense – our blockers – started adjusting and it worked out well,” Robinson said. “Being able to talk as a team, correct each other without attitudes or anything and … spreading the net – it’s working all together.”
Looking ahead at the schedule, Ignacio will next host Telluride on Sat., Sept. 11, with all action beginning at 11 a.m., then travel west to Dove Creek – which went into Labor Day ranked No. 5 in Class 1A – for a Sept. 18 SJBL showdown with undercard play commencing at 10 a.m.
Results from the Volleycats’ 9/9 home match versus non-league 2A Del Norte were unavailable at press time. Already with three five-game matches on their ledger during a 4-3 start, the Lady Tigers were to have visited Rio Grande County neighbors Monte Vista two nights before invading IHS.