In an enthralling volleyball match in which not much separated two cross-county rivals, it was the taller middle block of the Bayfield Wolverines that sent the Durango Demons to their first loss of the season.
The first of two non-league showdowns between the teams was set Wednesday night at Durango High School, as the surging Wolverines met the previously unbeaten Demons. Class 4A No. 8 Durango would storm back from an early 11-7 deficit to win the first set 25-20, but Class 3A No. 12 Bayfield would claim the next three sets 25-20, 25-23 and 25-13 to earn a 3-1 victory. The third set proved critical, as BHS trailed 22-20 but came back to win to swipe all the momentum.
“That was super fun. It wasn’t expected, but we put on our best performance tonight,” BHS middle blocker Macee Schulz said. “Our fans were a big help. Having them give us our energy made us play better.”
It was the fourth consecutive win for Bayfield (8-3, 5-3 3A/2A Intermountain League). The three previous all came in five-set league matches against Centauri, Class 3A No. 8 Alamosa and Pagosa Springs. The win at Pagosa Springs came only one night earlier in a match BHS head coach Terene Foutz said she was worried about her team’s performance and how it could carry over to Wednesday. But the Wolverines showed no signs of fatigue or sluggish play against the Demons.
“We were a little rough at Pagosa. It was not pretty,” Foutz said. “But tonight, they just responded. They’re starting to learn when it feels right to go with it instead of questioning themselves every time there is an error. We decided here, in Durango’s house, we were marching forward. They played hard tonight. Twenty-four hours ago, I wouldn’t have predicted this. Volleyball is fun.”
The loss dropped Durango to 8-1 overall going into another non-league contest at 6:45 p.m. Thursday at Class 3A No. 7 Montezuma-Cortez (9-0, 7-0 IML). The Demons are 5-0 in the 5A/4A Southwestern league with three games to go in the league schedule.
Wednesday night was the first time DHS first-year head coach Kelley Rifilato had faced Bayfield, a team she was the coach of for six seasons before moving up to coach Fort Lewis College from 2013-17, since she returned to the Colorado high school coaching bench.
“What can I say, Durango is great. Kelley is awesome,” Foutz said. “It was just time in our season where we could feel the confidence coming on. We had to pillage and scrape and claw and learn, but they are getting it done and believing in themselves as much as I believe in them.”
While unforced errors added up for DHS, it was Bayfield’s clear advantage at the middle block that was the difference. Melissa Roberts and Schulz each had 12 kills for the Wolverines, and they formed a formidable tandem to shut down Durango’s middle hitters.
“Our middles, we’ve been reaching our potential the last couple games,” Schulz said. “We keep getting better, and this was a great match for us.”
Emily Nelson led BHS with 30 digs, while Sage Killough had 37 assists. Annie Fusco also had a big night for BHS on the outside with 10 kills and 10 digs. In a match that displayed quality serving from both teams, BHS had 11 aces, led by Roberts with four.
The Demons had nine aces, led by Lainey Voss with three. Sophomore Mason Rowland hit for a .435 percentage with 14 kills. Kyle Rowland led DHS with 21 digs while Leah Wesley had 16 and Mason Rowland had 14. Paige Ammerman finished with 17 assists, while Mason Rowland had 15.
DHS, which has a shorter lineup but is filled with athletic all-around players, had proven to be dynamic all season in finding ways around opponents middle block until running into the Wolverines.
“I had a feeling that might be the case, but you just don’t know,” Foutz said. “Kids respond well when they’re at home, so it was a mystery match in a way. But I have full confidence in our team and our middles, and it paid off tonight. The story is that the team across the board kept so tough all night and had a good day.”
Now, DHS will look to play spoiler to Montezuma-Cortez’s perfect season, while BHS will have time to rest before hosting the rematch with the Demons at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“Tonight, both teams played their best. I expect the same thing again next week,” Schulz said. “We’re going to have to play our best again if we want to take another win against them.”