When Vail Christian’s Jessie Allen began the third and last Region VI match serving the Lady Saints to a 9-0 lead against Lake County, it was evident their prayers of Ignacio tenderizing LCHS in the preceding contest had been answered.
Needing help from the same Leadville-based Lady Panthers – whom they’d just defeated 25-19, 17-25, 25-22, 25-11 – to even have an outside chance at qualifying for the 2022 CHSAA State Championships, the Volleycats didn’t need to remain inside VCHS’ Thomas Morgan Wheeler Arts & Athletic Center long to realize they’d left LCHS lacking enough fuel to burn.
Already without junior middle Jaycee Windorski, lost in recent weeks to a multi-ligament knee injury, and suddenly minus setter Maggie Roeder after the sophomore injured her left wrist/forearm against IHS, skipper Sean Sprague’s shaken squad soldiered on but succumbed 25-13, 25-17, 25-8 to the tourney-hosting side – which clinched outright the Denver Coliseum trip.
Afterwards, Vail Christian head coach Adina Petersmeyer wasn’t hesitant to imply her team’s late dominance Friday, Nov. 4, had materialized as a direct result of surviving the event’s 11 a.m. opener against, yep, Ignacio.
“You always expect that everybody’s going to bring their A-game,” she said. “But Ignacio ripped apart our deep corners, cut some hard angles, and really threw us some quality volleyball. That forced us to really slow down and set up our offense.”
“Overall, the match was a lot tighter than I think any of us expected; they got every ball,” Petersmeyer continued. “It was actually great to have to play that kind of volleyball to start regionals off.”
“I thought it was one of our best games of the season,” said IHS head coach Shasta Pontine. “They played hard.”
Aggressors ever since balancing the Lady Saints’ 25-18 win in Game 1 with a 25-19 win in Game 2, the ’Cats pressed Petersmeyer into calling a timeout down 12-7 in Game 3. And though VCHS would eventually tie the score at 15, Ignacio – seeded 31st in the Class 2A State Tournament’s initial Round-of-36 – rallied to re-tie at 22-22.
IHS senior Trinity Strohl then served long, and Allen brought up game point by acing junior libero Kacey Brown. Junior Solymar Cosio kept the ’Cats alive with a scoring tip shot, but 6-seed Vail Christian won 25-23 when IHS setter Laci Brunson bumped a pass off the net but also the antenna.
Able to remove Allen from the service line early in Game 4 via a Cosio kill tying the score at 1-1, IHS went up 3-1 before VCHS, via a Logan Nobrega ace plus Payton Vermeer over-pass kill, forced Pontine into taking a timeout down 8-3. The Volleycats responded, pulling even at 9-9 and again at 10-10, but after the Lady Saints forged ahead and went up 17-14, the stage was set for a wild finish when Ignacio junior Darlyn Mendoza-Lechuga drilled VCHS senior Aria Webster with an equalizing serve as Webster, perhaps thinking the ball would sail long, was ducking out of the way.
Petersmeyer called timeout moments later after Cosio put IHS up 19-17 with a slide kill off senior Grace Engleby’s block, but even though VCHS would tie at 20-all, Ignacio went up 23-20 via a kill by senior Harmony Reynolds. Petersmeyer decided she had to use her second and last timeout, and after a lengthy rally started by a Brunson serve, Engleby placed a perfect roll shot into empty space – gaining the serve for a nervous teammate.
Junior Hannah Leonard then terminated a Nobrega set, and Pontine took a timeout in hopes of protecting Ignacio’s 23-22 lead, but VCHS senior Daisy Palacio followed with a shot the ’Cats couldn’t cleanly pass. While heading back to serve again, senior Maya Telles was stopped by Allen, and the libero quickly gave her a brief, emphatic pep chat worthy of an MVP award.
After Telles successfully served in bounds, Leonard and Nobrega combined to block Strohl and thus brought up match point. And with one of her best serves yet, if ever in her career, Telles caused an IHS passing error bringing the action to a close.
“The remarkable thing was that it was a sophomore going to a senior captain and telling her she’s got it,” said Petersmeyer. “That was the underclassman knowing that the senior was feeling a lot of pressure on that line. This team, young and old, they really do love each other and support in any way.”
“But I can’t go without remarking about our home crowd,” she added. “They actually won some points for us – when the principal held up a sign that said ‘Cheer! Or you’re expelled’ – and really made a difference.”
Against Vail Christian, Reynolds downed 11 kills and Cosio did likewise, though both were held below .200 hitting. Strohl and sophomore Ollyvia Howe each recorded four kills, as Brunson totaled 29 set assists. Reynolds finished with a double-double thanks to her 18 digs, a number exceeded by only Brown (21). Brunson came up with seven digs, while Howe and Maci Barnes each logged five. Cosio was also credited with an impressive five solo blocks.
Reynolds led the way offensively against Lake County with 11 kills and Cosio followed with seven. Brunson finished with 28 assists as Strohl booked five kills and sophomore Marissa Olguin four. Brown totaled 19 digs defensively, Reynolds finished with seven, and Barnes and Strohl each had five.
Regional runners-up, the ’Cats improved to a season-ending 14-11 overall; LCHS, the No. 19 seed, finished 19-6.
“I think when we started … they were let down because we’d lost. And it was a hard loss,” Pontine said, referencing her players’ demeanor as play against the Lady Panthers commenced. “And not knowing at that point the outcome – not knowing how Lake County was going to rank (against VCHS) – it took us a little while to get our energy back.”
“We started to get into a huddle to talk,” she continued, recalling her post-match address to her team, “but they were kicking us out of the gym – it was kind of a fast transition! But I got to go around and give most of them a hug before they left with their parents. I told them I was proud of them, and that it was a great season.”
One of 12 Class 2A teams traveling to the Championships, November 10-12, Vail Christian improved to 20-3.