Lady Bluejays punch first, Lady Bears fight back

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Courtney Blackmer spikes the ball against Mancos Tuesday night on the way to a Dolores Lady Bears home win in five sets.

By Bobby Abplanalp Journal staff writer

The Dolores crowd was quiet during the brief intermission between sets two and three.

Mancos had come into Dolores High School and dominated the first two sets in this bitter volleyball rivalry Tuesday night.

The Lady Bluejays were seeking revenge, already having lost twice to the Lady Bears this season.

Mancos appeared on its way to a huge road win, leading 8-5 in the third set.

However, good teams find ways to win and the Dolores upperclassmen stepped up.

Behind Cydney McHenry’s powerful kills and Brianna Schwartz providing a spark off the bench, the home team reeled off 10 straight points and eventually won set three.

Dolores held off Mancos in set four and came from behind again in set five to pull off the improbable five-set comeback, 3-2 (17-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-22, 15-9).

It was a character building win for the veteran Lady Bears (14-4, 11-2 2A/1A San Juan Basin League).

“We started off with some unforced errors and we were frustrated with ourselves,” Dolores coach Gina Hollen said. “We made a few adjustments in the third game and it seemed to work for us. We got new energy. It just flowed. We found new life.”

For the young Lady Bluejays (8-8, 6-5 2A/1A SJBL), it was a vast improvement against their rival under first-year coach Caroline Glover. But the loss still stings.

“We came out strong and they got us in the third game,” Glover said. “When it comes down to the fifth game, it is hard. You ask the girls to dig deep, and keep fighting and not give up. I felt like my girls did that. Unfortunately, some inexperience hurts us.”

Mancos came out fired up scoring the first five points of the match, which forced Hollen to use her first timeout. The visitors built a 7-1 lead and later led 12-5 thanks to various Dolores mistakes. DHS seniors Mindy McCracken and McHenry helped the Lady Bears claw back on senior night. The duo spiked thunderous kills that drew praise from the home fans.

McCracken gave her team its first lead at 15-14 with a kill. Tied at 16, Mancos’ Emily Funmaker spiked a kill of her own to put the Lady Bluejays up 17-16. Mancos’ lead ballooned to 22-16 en route to a 25-17 win. The Lady Bluejays closed the set on a 9-1 run.

Dolores led 7-4 early in the second frame and maintained a 2- to-3-point lead for a while. Leading 15-13, consecutive Lady Bears’ errors knotted the score at 15 and swung the momentum in favor of Mancos.

Tied at 16, back-to-back kills from Funmaker and Taryn Gordanier after furious rallies gave the Lady Bluejays an 18-16 lead. The rivals remained close to a 20-20 tie. But Dolores errors gave the lead back to Mancos and the visitors pulled away to win the set. The Lady Bluejays possessed what seemed like an insurmountable 2-0 lead at the break.

Dolores wasn’t about to go down with out a fight, though.

“Coming into that third game, everybody’s spirits were low,” McHenry said. “We came together and knew something had to be done. I think coach made some good decisions and we came out a lot stronger.”

The Lady Bears’ 10-0 run in set three gave them a 15-8 lead. Each team played nearly even from that point, as Dolores forced another set.

In the fourth frame, things unravelled fast for Mancos. The Lady Bears sprinted to a 9-2 lead and kept on running. Freshman Courtney Blackmer and junior Elana Bernholtz spearheaded an offensive Dolores attack to a comfortable 21-8 margin.

The Lady Bluejays did regroup with poise and maturity, and stormed back on a 14-2 run to pull within 23-22. Funmaker, Gordanier and Megan Hess dominated for Mancos in its comeback.

Dolores needed an answer, and Blackmer answered the call.

The freshman blocked a shot from Hess to put the Lady Bears up 24-22. Then on match point, Blackmer perfectly volleyed the ball backward over the net to Mancos’ right corner end line. After a brief moment, the line judge said the ball landed in bounds and the Dolores faithful erupted with the match now tied 2-2.

In the fifth set, it was Mancos on top early 7-4. Freshman Jessica Guiterrez and junior Whitney Gustafson set up play making hitters Hess, Funmaker and Gordanier for easy kills.

Again, Dolores had to come from behind. And again, the Lady Bears did.

Dolores tied the score at 8 and an earth shattering spike by McHenry gave the Lady Bears the lead for good. McHenry added two more kills in the final frame, as her team won the set by six to clinch the match.

Dolores swept the regular season series, but the two rivals could meet at districts. The six 2A SJBL teams will be at Ignacio High School next Friday and Saturday. Norwood, who currently sits in first-place, is 1A, along with Dove Creek and Ouray. The 1A schools will travel to Olathe for their district tournament.

If the 2A districts began today, DHS would be the No. 1 seed. Telluride would be second; Mancos, third; and, host Ignacio, fourth. Nucla and Ridgway would be the five and six seeds.

“As long as we keep winning, that’s suppose to set us up first seeding for districts,” McHenry said. “That’s the way we would like it, because that sets us up the best to win and we knew that tonight. We knew that we needed to win in order to verify our position.”

The Lady Bears need to take care of business today to assure themselves the top district tourney seed. Dolores plays at Ridgway at 5:30 p.m., in its regular season finale. The Lady Bears swept the Demons in three sets on Oct. 13.

“We saw them last Saturday,” said Hollen about the Demons. “We need to adjust to their hitters. They picked us apart a little bit on defense. It’s adjusting our defense and try to shut their hitters down. We do that, I think we’ll be fine.”

Mancos heads to Ridgway for a doubleheader Saturday morning. The Lady Bluejays will play Ouray in their second match of the day.

“They have come a long way,” said Glover about her squad. “They are seeing the court much better than they have been. They’re hitting better, passing better. They gave a hard fight today.”

First serve between Mancos and Ridgway is a 10 a.m.

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