As they had done all season, the Bayfield High School volleyball team showed its resiliency after going down one set and trailing early in the season of the regional championship match Saturday. Resurrection Christian later would show its will, too.
The No. 6 Wolverines stormed to a 2-1 match lead behind gritty defense and powerful hitting before No. 11 Resurrection Christian rallied back to claim the fourth set and force a decisive fifth in the 3A Region 6 championship matched played inside the Bayfield High School gymnasium.
Bayfield got out to a 3-0 lead in the fifth set and led 6-3 after an Annie Fusco kill. But the Cougars clawed back into the set behind four Wolverines serving errors. A tip kill from sophomore Reagan McWhinney would help Resurrection Christian tie the set at 7-7, and another point from her gave the Cougars a 9-7 advantage.
Though senior Brooke Merchant came through with a booming kill and a strong block to help Bayfield, the Wolverines were unable to come back after another McWhinney kill broke through the BHS block to make it 12-9 Cougars, who went on to claim a 15-9 victory.
Resurrection Christian (10-4) would win the match 3-2 (25-18, 26-28, 19-25, 25-17, 15-9) to punch a ticket to the Class 3A state tournament.
“We just believed in ourselves,” McWhinney said. “We talked in the huddle between sets, and we realized that volleyball goes to four or five sets for a reason. It’s not over for us. We had a lot of hope and kept believing in each other the whole match.”
The Cougars will now advance to the eight-team Class 3A state tournament to be played next week at the World Arena in Colorado Springs.
“This is insane; this was our dream this year,” McWhinney said. “With how crazy it’s been with COVID pushing back our season and everything, we are going to celebrate this.”
The loss ended another strong season for the Wolverines (9-5), which were one of three teams from the 3A Intermountain League to earn the right to host a regional.
“I thought it was a fantastic match,” BHS head coach Terene Foutz said. “I thought we hung tough defensively against their hard driving offense. Our serve receive game held, and we had opportunities to compete in the match.
“The unforced errors were merely part of the story. The difference in the fifth set was that we did not respond offensively as we should have. Too many off speed shots versus a hard drive response. They kept swinging, we did not.”
Earlier in the day, both the Cougars and Wolverines blasted their way past Denver Science & Tech: Byers (11-2). The Wolverines beat them 25-4, 25-14 and 25-15. The Cougars would beat them 25-14, 25-12, 25-6, setting the stage for the title match.
Resurrection Christian controlled the first set, finishing the 25-19 win with a McWhinney kill. The Cougars looked to do the same in the second behind a 15-8 lead before the Wolverines started to get hot when seniors Macee Schulz and Melissa Roberts began to add to the attack of Fusco.
A huge hustle play to chase down a ball that bounced off a ceiling light fixture brought the Wolverines, as well as the crowd, to life, and suddenly BHS got back within 19-18 to force a Resurrection Christian timeout. But the Cougars regrouped and went back up 23-18 to force another Bayfield timeout. The Wolverines got right back into it behind two Schulz kills sandwiched around one from Merchant before a Fusco swing painted the line and tied the set at 24-24.
Schulz and Kylee Nordhagen would exchange kills to extend the set before Bayfield finally claimed it 28-26.
“Bayfield has some girls who can pound the ball,” Resurrection Christian head coach Ben Reeser said. “We knew we had to be a very good defensive team today to deal with them.”
It was all Bayfield in the third set against a visibly frustrated Cougars team. Fusco, Roberts and Schulz teed off when set, and Schulz began scoring in bunches with blocks.
“She’s an amazing player,” McWhinney said of Schulz. “We just had to take some angles and avoid going right at her.”
Resurrection Christian felt its game come back to life late in the third set despite a 25-19 loss that gave them a good feeling going into the fourth.
“We did not play well in the third set. To come back in the fourth, we had to spend a lot of energy and focus,” said Reeser. “The fourth set I knew we could get through, but the amount of energy it costs you often times costs you the fifth set. I’m super proud of them for fighting through it.”
When the match was over, BHS retreated to its locker room for an emotional end to the season while Resurrection Christian gathered for team photos and a celebration with the regional championship plaque.
The Wolverines later emerged from their locker room with the small but loud and proud student section and the rest of the small crowd still there waiting to applaud each and every player as they came back onto the court. It was a salute deserving to a team that fought through the COVID-19 altered 2020-21 school sports season to get to one of the biggest stages in their sport.
“No words to fully encompass how I feel about this group,” Foutz said. “They are an incredibly hard working team who have proven to be resilient. Although today wasn’t our day, that changes nothing. We view our season as a success because of all they gave to it and who they are becoming because of it. It was an awesome experience”