Durango blazes trail in state volleyball championship
All dreams come to an end – some earlier than others.
The Douglas High School volleyball team awoke Saturday needing to win one of two matches to earn the Class 4A state title. But the Durango Trailblazers had other ideas.
The Blazers pulled off a seemingly impossible feat, downing the Tigers in back-to-back contests to steal the title at Green Valley High School in Las Vegas. Durango won the elimination final 8-15, 15-11, 15-10 and took the championship match, 15-2, 15-5.
“We knew we could do it,” said Durango’s Shannon Chase, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “We just counted down – four games, 60 points. Douglas has an awesome team. We came out and did it. It was total confidence.”
The Tigers, who finished the season 39-4, entered Saturday’s championship round undefeated in the tournament, and they played like they would remain that way early. They spanked the Blazers in the first game and appeared poised to take the title.
But that’s when the alarm sounded. Durango, which finished the season 39-8, began to compete like the champ it would become – frenzied digging, solid serves, net control and great combination hitting combined to leave the Tigers on their heels and give the Blazers the next two games and match one.
Douglas had its chances, though, as it was tied at 11 in the second game and was as close as 12-10 in the third.
“Coming in, we knew it was going to be a big challenge to beat Douglas,” Durango coach Bob Kelly said. “I think we took away their offense which was the major difference. Douglas got a little frustrated.”
Kelly was right. In the second match, Durango collected an 8-2 lead before senior Blair Wilkes ran seven service points to win it. It was more of the same in the second, as the Blazers blew it wide open with an 8-1 start and a 13-2 lead before winning easily. The declawed Tigers could only watch in amazement as ball after ball fell helplessly to the floor or limped into the net without a threat.
“It’s like having it right in the palm of your hand and seeing it slip away,” Douglas coach Jennifer DeJoseph said. “We were cruising downhill and all of a sudden we hit a big uphill. I don’t know what happened.
“Durango turned it on and made some awesome plays. Once they get in your heads and start getting momentum it’s hard. You start doubting yourself and losing focus. We were trying so desperately to win the play instead of just relaxing. We didn’t go with our strengths.
“(Durango) wasn’t just going to lie down and say, ‘Here, take it.’ The top team rose to the occasion.”
Wilkes finished with 17 kills and five blocks Saturday, while Chase had 15 kills and Sarah Gubler had 44 assists. Rebecca Goodspeed led Douglas with 13 kills while Kaycee Green had 28 assists. Danelle Paterson had 12 kills, but only one in the final match.
Durango, which won the school’s first title in five years of the sport, reached the finals by coming out of the loser’s bracket with a 12-15, 15-4, 15-10 win over Green Valley earlier on Saturday. The Blazers were responsible for three of Douglas’ four losses this season, South Tahoe being the fourth.
Tigers beat Durango to reach final
The Tigers, behind some truly inspired play, beat Durango, 15-10, 13-15, 15-8, in the winner’s bracket final Friday evening to advance to the championship.
“This team has played some good volleyball before, but I think that was the best I’ve seen in a really long time,” Douglas coach Jennifer DeJoseph said after Friday’s win. “Sometimes when you tell a team it can win state, it’s just a motivational tool. But I truly believe it. It’s so awesome that we’re in it.”
The two teams traded kills like characters in an Ian Fleming novel to open the battle. The Tigers surged to a 6-2 lead on crushes by Goodspeed and Paterson. The Blazers evened it at 8-all as the middle pressure of Wilkes caused Douglas to change a few shots. But Douglas, behind the cool leadership of Green, maintained its poise. A Goodspeed ace closed game one.
“Kaycee stayed calm. Emotionally and mentally she stayed in it. She made some tremendous plays,” DeJoseph said.
It looked like Douglas would make quick work of Durango in the second, flying around the floor to open a 9-1 lead. But the Blazers clawed their way back to take a 10-9 advantage as Chase began to unload on her game-high 13 kills.
Douglas tied it at 12-all on a Linzy Doherty stuffed block, but a questionable out call and a Durango ace paired to force the rubber match.
“I don’t know what happened, really,” DeJoseph said. “The nice thing is to have a lapse that way and not let it take you out of the game.”
The teams again traded heavyweight blows to open the third game. Down 3-1, Douglas battled to tie it at 7-all with a Green kill. Paterson then pounded one of her team-high 12 kills to give Douglas a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Molly Greenberg pounded a Green quick-set at 12-8, before a Green ace and Goodspeed kill gave the Tigers their final’s berth.