Lady Bulldogs capture regional volleyball title

Dove Creek volleyball entered the 1A Region-A tournament at La Veta High School last Friday unbeaten against nonleague foes.

The Lady Bulldogs left La Veta unbeaten against teams outside the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League.

With poise and confidence, the young Dove Creek squad swept its regional competition to claim the tourney title and a trip to state.

“I was proud of the girls really stepping up and being mentally strong. Things seem to be coming together right now,” Lady Bulldogs coach Scott Knuckles said. “Mental errors we’ve had in the past, we’ve been able to overcome. Against Cotopaxi, we were up 8-2 right off the bat. We started off on the right foot. The girls came to play. The girls were not going to come out of there with a loss.”

Dove Creek (16-8) easily dispatched Cotopaxi (9-13) in straight sets, 3-0 (25-6, 25-17, 25-14), before knocking region host La Veta (18-6), 3-0 (25-20, 25-21, 25-19). The Lady Bulldogs snapped La Veta’s eight-match winning streak to clinch a trip to the Denver Coliseum. It is Dove Creek’s first 1A state tourney appearance since 2008.

“I thought it was awesome to have to travel that far and not knowing much about them. I was very pleased with the girls’ performance,” said Knuckles about winning in the San Luis Valley. “We were able to put the numbers together and come out on top.”

The Lady Bulldogs bullied Cotopaxi and then faced a much better La Veta team. The Redskins went undefeated in the Southern Peaks League and was unblemished in their District-6 championship.

It didn’t matter.

Behind juniors Shelbie and Kristin Knuckles, and Madison Young, Cori Guynes and Jennifer Fury, Dove Creek rallied from an early first-set deficit to tie things at 20. The Lady Bulldogs seized the momentum and scored the next five points to win the first set.

“We made an ace and tied it up 20-20. From then on, the girls put the hammer down,” coach Knuckles said.

The Lady Bulldogs bit La Veta in set two and built a 15-5 lead and held on for the win. In the final frame, Dove Creek broke an 11-11 tie and never trailed en route to a regional championship.

It’s the first state tourney appearance for Scott Knuckles.

“I don’t look at it as anything I’ve done, these girls can make any coach look good,” he said. “They’re good athletically and mentally. It’s just instilling confidence in them. (Assistant coach) Jody Geardner has been a great help, as far as things we need to adjust to and work on. I give them more credit than anything.”

Shelbie Knuckles tallied nine kills and 10 digs against La Veta. Madison Young has 17 assists. Kristin Knuckles recorded a team high 13 digs, while Fury and Guynes chipped in 12 digs apiece.

The 12-team 1A state bracket seeded Dove Creek No. 12. It will play the first match Friday at 8 a.m. against eight-seed Eads in Pool I. The Lady Bulldogs will also face Weldon Valley in the third match. A team must win its pool to advance to the next round.

In what has been a “fun” season, the Lady Bulldogs do have some kinks to workout before Friday.

“On defense, we need to be in the right position. Often times, we’ve been caught in the wrong position,” Scott Knuckles said. “Our passes have been better in the playoffs and we want to continue that. Those other teams look to be pretty tall, we need to focus on blocking. We need to get up there, and get some touches and slow down the momentum of the ball, let the back row pass it up.”

There is only one senior on coach Knuckles’ squad, so the future of Dove Creek volleyball indeed looks promising.

“It will be a good experience for the girls coming back next year. It will motivate them more to go again next year,” Scott Knuckles said. “I expect them to play as good as they have in districts and regionals, if not better.”

The Colorado High School Activities Association, Volleyball State Championships will be Friday and Saturday at the Denver Coliseum.

Live statistics will be streamed on www.chsaa.org.

NOTES: The 1A SJBL Norwood Mavericks won the Region-E tourney to advance to state. Norwood is the six-seed in Pool III and will take on 10th seeded Kit Carson on Friday before facing No. 3-seed Otis.