Fri Nov 22nd, 2019
Special to the Drum
Tags: 2-A Regional Volleyball Tournament, CHSAA, Grace Gonzales, Ignacio Athletics, Ignacio Bobcats, Ignacio Volleyball, IHS, Jayden Brunson, Lexy Young, Makayla Howell, Marisa Carmenoros, Sage Lechman, Thad Cano
Self-immolation was probably off the table, but Makayla Howell was more or less ready to do whatever it took in order to exit the 2A-Region VII Tournament in a blaze of glory which she hoped would propel the Volleycats into the 2019 CHSAA State Championships.
“Yeah, that’s exactly how I came in,” said Ignacio’s senior middle, following the Friday, Nov. 8, event at West Grand High School in Kremmling. “We had nothing to lose – made it to regionals as a 30-seed … and got placed here – so we came to play hard and that’s exactly what I did. It was my last couple games, so I gave it my all.”
“I can’t say enough about her leadership the entire season, through our ups and downs … keeping the team going,” said head coach Thad Cano. “And without her we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did.”
Or, most likely, even remained in the same gym as both the hosting Lady Mustangs and also Ault-based Highland; both squads would race out to dominating leads early, and gain 2-games-to-0 advantages in the round-robin meet’s opening best-of-five – forcing IHS to display as much come-from-behind flair as could be flaunted.
“These teams were very good, had good team chemistry, and they fought – made sure they knew that they were the ones who were going to take it,” conceded freshman Grace Gonzales.
“At the beginning … we were just really tired and asleep,” sophomore Alexis Pontine agreed. “And when we got to the third sets we were like, ‘O.K., we have to bring it back! We have to play!’ We had to do what we know how to do.”
“It’s all about attitude,” said Howell. “We woke up and we realized that we were better than that; we knew that we could come back, play like we know how.”
A Gonzales kill began Game 3 versus WGHS, and two kills by sophomore Lexy Young helped Ignacio stay even with the Lady Mustangs at 6-6. Pontine then followed by acing both freshman Sage Lechman and sophomore Alex Schake for the first solid indication of IHS’ resolve. West Grand would briefly regain the lead at 12-11 when senior Mikayla Shearer roofed Young at the net, but the ’Cats would come out of a Cano timeout and string together five straight points for a 16-12 advantage.
That lead would soon max out at 18-13 when a WGHS serve-receive error forced skipper Scott Terryberry into taking a timeout to which the Lady Mustangs responded, reeling off six unanswered points for a 19-18 lead. Young, however, then equalized at 19 with a successful joust at the net, and a Howell tip then followed. West Grand sophomore Madelyn Probst re-tied at 20-all by disposing of a Volleycat over-pass, and the Lady Mustangs would hold the upper hand until a Gonzales kill leveled matters at 23-23.
Junior setter Marisa Carmenoros would soon end the stanza with a short ace out of Shearer’s reach, but WGHS – ultimately the victorious school at State when Ignacio last qualified (in the old A-I classification, placing third) back in 1987 – would start Game 4 on a 4-0 burst and never look back in clinching a 25-15, 25-20, 23-25, 25-17 victory.
The ’Cats never led in Game 4, falling behind by as much as 21-10 after a Shearer kill, and would not lead again until a Pontine service ace put IHS up 7-6 in Game 3 against Highland.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at first, because they’re not from our conference or anything,” said West Grand senior Emma DeSanti. “But once we started kind of seeing how they were playing, and we got in our groove, we kind of warmed up to them and did well.”
“I would say that after seeing Ignacio play, I’d put them up there in our upper part of our league,” Terryberry said. “It’s always tough to prepare for someone you haven’t seen, but we were fortunate that we had a couple league schools that had played ’em; we were able to get some scouting reports from a couple of our league coaches. Which helped out, but again … until you get on the court you really don’t know.”
That being said, HHS appeared to have a don’t-know-don’t-care approach in going wire-to-wire in both Games 1 and 2 against Ignacio, winning by respective 25-21, 25-15 margins. Most importantly, the Lady Huskies had apparently extinguished a spark created late in Game 1, when a sequence featuring a Howell kill, a Pontine ace, and a Gonzales kill which was probably the hardest ball she’d yet hammered during the triangular.
That brought the ’Cats back to 23-20, but Highland would go up 1-0 in the contest after Pontine netted a serve, Gonzales terminated a Jayden Brunson set, and Howell netted one of her potent topspin jump-serves.
IHS’ Game 2 fortunes could have been summarized in a stretch when HHS sophomore Taryn Winter served a clean ace, freshman Madilyn Nelson somehow scored with an unplayable free-ball, and Winter muscled another ace through the top of the net, pressing Cano into a madness-ceasing stoppage.
But helped by senior setter Maiya DeHoyos’ consecutive aces boosting the Lady Huskies’ lead from 12-4 to 20-11, the ’Cats found themselves forced into full rally mode after senior Sidney Brown’s kill secured Highland the 2-0 match lead.
Shortly after the aforementioned Pontine go-ahead ace, Carmenoros landed another, pressing HHS boss Jared Nelson into a timeout down 13-8, and an observing Terryberry to quip, “I’m glad they didn’t serve like that all the time against us!”
“We did have a few issues with our serving,” said Gonzales, confirming Ignacio’s earlier, less-impressive work.
A Howell kill would later re-pad Ignacio’s cushion to 18-13 before Highland scrapped back to tie at 18-18 when junior Kelsey Truax tapped a free-ball off Young. IHS junior Charlize Valdez finally got DeHoyos off serve with a scoring roll shot, but the Lady Huskies again tied when standout junior Alexus Rigg crushed a DeHoyos set for a kill.
Kills by Young and Pontine, however, got the ’Cats moving again offensively, and Ignacio would later prevail 25-22 after Howell emphatically downed back-to-back kills.
“Our dynamic was so good; we really played together and we had fun as a team,” she said. “We almost did worse when we were super-serious! We did a lot better when we were playing, just having fun out there.”
“We had a really slow start,” said Pontine, “and by the third we finally started getting into our rhythm.”
Kills by Gonzales and Howell helped the ’Cats tie at 3-3 early in Game 4, and Ignacio would soon re-establish themselves as the aggressors and steadily construct an 18-15 lead via kills by Pontine and Gonzales after Cano took a timeout.
Though she couldn’t have known it at the time, two of Howell’s final three prep-level serves went for spectacular aces and a 21-17 lead, but a Truax kill got her off the line and Highland would soon tie the score at 22. Gonzales and Rigg swapped kills and Carmenoros then pushed a shot perfectly to the corner, bringing up game point for the ’Cats at 24-23.
Beyond eager to send the match into a tiebreaking fifth game, Howell unluckily netted an attempted over-pass spike, but Young earned Ignacio another chance with a tip off Brown’s block. Young, however, then sent her ensuing serve long, and HHS gained its first shot at ending the back-and-forth battle when Valdez couldn’t handle a serve.
Not ready to go out quite so soon, Howell ripped a kill to re-tie at 26-26, and a four-touch violation against the Lady Huskies gave the Volleycats yet another bite at the proverbial apple.
“I think it came to the point of where I couldn’t just talk to the team – I had to show the team what it meant to put your heart out,” said Howell. “So that’s what I was doing, putting it all out there.”
Highland junior Sierra Staab, though, came up with a crucial scoring block on Gonzales and HHS then went up 28-27 when Gonzales belted her next shot long.
And in anticlimactic fashion, the Lady Huskies would triumph 25-21, 25-15, 22-25, 29-27 when DeHoyos dinked over a short ball Valdez couldn’t keep off the floor.
“We were dealing with … anxiety, mental focus, so I did quite a few substitutions – trying to get players a break on the bench, to get settled, then put ’em back in the game,” said Cano. “It was a little challenging today, but the girls accepted their roles and did the job. We did the best we could.”
“We worked very hard throughout the preseason and … postseason, through practices and everything, so I’m very proud of my team,” said Gonzales. “We’ll be back next year! Without Makayla, we’ll be looking for a new middle, but … it’s going to be a very amazing team.”
“Next year,” Howell said, “I just need all the girls to keep their heads up, play strong … as the ’Cats I know they are.”
Though denied a long-sought trip to State, Ignacio still finished with a 13-12 overall record – a notable improvement over 2018’s underachieving 8-15 mark. Highland would finish 16-9 after falling 17-25, 21-25, 20-25 to West Grand in the day’s final match, and WGHS would end up an outstanding 23-6 after splitting four matches – edging both Del Norte and Dolores in five-game tests, but losing in four to Limon and ultimately in three to Simla on Day 2 (Nov. 15) inside the Denver Coliseum.