Ignacio junior Ollyvia Howe (8) angles a ball away from Gilpin County's Elise Vincent (18) Saturday, Sept. 2, at the 2023 West Grand Invitational up in Kremmling. Finishing pool-play work inside West Grand Elementary/Middle's gym, IHS swept the Black Hawk-based Lady Eagles 25-12, 25-14, 25-19 to earn a spot in that afternoon's championship match, held inside WGHS Gymnasium.
Ignacio junior Marissa Olguin (5) stretches to swing at a ball Saturday, Sept. 2, during the 2023 West Grand Invitational's championship match versus Mancos. IHS lost 20-25, 30-28, 24-26, 20-25 to the Lady Jays inside WGHS Gymnasium up in Kremmling.
Ignacio senior Solymar Cosio (20) spikes a ball past Mancos senior Haylie Higgins (12) during the 2023 West Grand Invitational's championship match Saturday, Sept. 2, up in Kremmling. IHS lost 20-25, 30-28, 24-26, 20-25 to the Lady Jays inside WGHS Gymnasium.
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to Drum
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to Drum
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to Drum
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’Cats second to Mancos in Kremmling

SJBL powers battle for first at tournament

With tournament-hosting West Grand not involved in the championship match, nor even its third-place test, it was a shame more fans hadn’t stuck around Saturday afternoon, Sept. 2, to witness the two-day event’s most-supreme teams going head-to-head for the 2023 WGHS Invitational trophy. 

As it turned out, perhaps not so unexpectedly, both contenders represented the San Juan Basin League – and were all too happy to show any and all opposition the sort of high-energy volleyball being played in the state’s southwest corner. 

“Throughout our matches on Friday we … just knew it was going to come (down) to Mancos and us,” Ignacio head coach Jennifer Seibel said. “And once we got through our first three matches, we were excited: Not even a week later, we were matching up with them again!” 

“We were hoping that we were not going to have to play them up here; we were hoping we were going to see somebody else,” said grinning MHS skipper Brianna Yeomans-Allison. “But Ignacio’s a great team and … that helps us get better, helps us work through some challenges and things.” 

Having swamped Fairplay-based South Park (25-10, 25-9, 25-15) and crushed Cedaredge (25-11, 25-23, 25-16) on Day 1, IHS then swept Black Hawk-based Gilpin County early on Day 2 in the teams’ final Pool B match. With senior Solymar Cosio leading the way, hyper-energizing the Volleycats with three consecutive service aces midway through Game 1, a solo block to bring up game point, then a perfectly placed roll shot to the deep corner, Ignacio ultimately prevailed 25-12, 25-14, 25-19. 

Game 2 went into the books when IHS freshman Lainee Bradley somehow, after senior Maci Barnes incredibly kept the play alive beyond IHS’ end line with an upward, one-handed swat, smacked a two-handed free ball back over her head with enough pace to clip the top of the net and still land on stunned GCHS’ side. 

That was about all for the Lady Eagles, who fell behind 2-1 in Game 3 and never as much as tied the score the rest of the way. Ignacio junior Ollyvia Howe hammered a defining kill shot for a 14-9 advantage, and the victory became official when Gilpin County was whistled for a four-contact violation resulting from a cross-court spike by Volleycat junior Marissa Olguin. 

Mancos, meanwhile, beat the hometown Lady Mustangs 25-13, 25-12, 26-24 on Day 1 in Pool A, and also downed Peyton 25-14, 25-21, 27-25. Sanford then succumbed 25-13, 28-26, 25-19 on Day 2 – setting up the all-SJBL showdown, which initially went the Lady Jays’ way. 

Gaining a 6-5 lead in Game 1, MHS never again let IHS pull even before reaching game point, 24-19, via sophomore Claire Goodwin’s ace of senior Kacey Brown. Goodwin’s next serve was unplayable but ruled out of bounds long – giving the ’Cats one last shot at a comeback. But after receiving Ignacio’s serve, Mancos claimed the game when senior Teya Yeomans blasted a backrow kill through Cosio’s block. 

Having closed the gap on the scoreboard to just two points on two separate occasions in the first verse, Ignacio more or less picked up where they’d left off and began Game 2 with Brown stuffing Yeomans. MHS, however, would battle back to re-tie the score at 6-6 via an ace by sophomore libero Brooke Jabour, and after surviving an IHS rally, leveling the score at 11-11 via a Howe kill, the Lady Jays went up 13-12 and grew their advantage to 22-16 before Seibel used a timeout. 

After Goodwin then served long, Barnes’ subsequent serving yielded four points – coming via as many Mancos errors – and brought the ’Cats back to 22-21. Goodwin, however, then stuffed IHS setter Kelly Sirios to get the Lady Jays back on track, and Mancos would reach game point, 24-23, via a Yeomans kill. 

Coming out of Seibel’s second timeout, Cosio kept the game going with a solo block. And after denying MHS twice more, Ignacio capitalized on the momentum boost. Barnes rolled a shot over, tying the score at 26, and Cosio then split Jabour and Yeomans for an ace. Mancos re-tied at 27 when Cosio’s next serve went into the net, and still had hope at 28-28 after Olguin served long, but the ’Cats would knot the match at a game apiece when Brown zipped a kill through three MHS players, and Barnes then scraped the back line with an ace Jabour chose not to receive. 

“We were just tenacious on defense … picked up most everything,” said Seibel. “It wasn’t pretty, but we were able to keep balls playable.” 

“They’re super tall and can hit straight down, but our defense is there; we’re good at picking things up and being scrappy,” Barnes said. 

Refocused, Mancos raced out to a 9-3 lead in Game 3 before Ignacio again buckled down and tied the score at 13-13 via a Howe kill off the Lady Jays’ block. Later regaining a 19-18 lead, MHS would reach game point, 24-22, via senior Haylie Higgins’ 1-v-1 block of Cosio, and Seibel took a timeout. Again, the pause paid dividends; a net violation and a Higgins attack sent long brought IHS level at 24. 

Yeomans-Allison called a timeout before Sirios served, and after play resumed the Lady Jays went up 2-1 in the match via a Higgins/Aysia Mathews block, followed by a Goodwin ace into Ignacio’s center. 

Their resolve unshaken, the Volleycats began Game 4 with Cosio roofing a Yeomans roll shot, then Sirios acing Goodwin with a perfect floater. Mancos then began to answer, and a Higgins block tied the score at 6-all. Seibel would take a timeout with IHS down 10-6, and MHS’ lead grew to 13-7 after back-to-back Higgins kills and a Goodwin ace. Mancos’ lead maxed out at 20-12 before the ’Cats attempted to claw back into contention. 

Down 24-17 after Yeomans ripped a kill off the block, IHS stayed alive with three straight points including two Howe aces. But with the Lady Jays still enjoying a comfortable cushion, Ignacio’s luck finally ran out when Yeomans fooled Ignacio with a slower-paced kill into a vacated middle, rather than a missile deep into IHS’ back row. 

“I saw they were all kind of back on their heels; I think everyone was expecting a hard kill,” she said, “and I just put it right into the middle. At the end of the day, a kill’s a kill no matter how hard you hit it.” 

“We were struggling on some serve-receive when we played Ignacio (inside IHS Gymnasium); we were more out-of-system than we’d want to be, so this time we kind of switched it up to adjust for that, so we could get (Teya) some more swings,” said Yeomans-Allison. “She’s leading us in kills … tends to hold the team to higher standards that keep us going.” 

“We’d had a really good week of practice, and so matching up with them I think we did a lot better,” Seibel said. “They’re just a great team, and our goal was just to take a set or two off them. We didn’t have those first-game jitters that we’d had, and we were in a neutral spot so it kind of had that sense of no one having the upper hand, you know?” 

“No one’s going to let us have anything. If we want something we need to go get it, and we’ve got to work for it.” 

Standing 5-2 overall after the 20-25, 30-28, 24-26, 20-25 loss to Mancos (7-0), Ignacio will next see action Saturday, Sept. 9, in Lakewood at the Denver Christian Invitational, and will first face the hosting Thunder at 10:30 a.m. 

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