Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Time to dance, Demons.
Moments after tallying the kill that would send the squad to state, the Durango High School volleyball team lined up and wobbled along with fans to the song “Wobble” by rapper V.I.C., doing the signature dance in all its hip-shaking glory.
After all, the Demons just made the big dance. They’ll be wobbling all the way to Denver – for the third consecutive year.
No. 8 seed Durango finished off No. 17 Pueblo West 3-1 after earlier dispatching No. 29 Delta 3-0 to win the CHSAA Class 4A Region 8 Volleyball Tournament, the program’s third consecutive regional title. The victory puts DHS in next weekend’s CHSAA Class 4A Girls Volleyball State Championships at the Denver Coliseum.
The final match wasn’t without drama, but McKenna Franzen’s 19th kill of the match brought a roaring crowd to a state of ecstasy and finished off a 25-13, 25-27, 25-17, 25-23 win. It provided a memory that brought tears to the senior’s eyes just moments later.
“It was amazing. Even talking about it now makes me so happy,” said a misty-eyed Franzen, daughter of Gary and Regina Franzen.
Her 19-kill, 16-dig effort helped pull DHS (17-8) to state yet again, but she wasn’t without plenty of dance partners. Jessie Brammer had 17 kills, and Kennedy Clark added 25 digs. Gaby Razma had 10 digs as DHS had four players with 10-plus digs in both matches, and Hannah Quick added 10 kills.
But setting the tone for the well-rounded effort was Natalie Bulen, the 5-8 senior engine that makes the Demons run. The setter had 51 assists, 11 digs and nine kills, most of the tip variety as she did everything possible to try and keep the Cyclones (18-7) out of their rhythm and throw off their towering blockers.
“Jump setting especially helps. That keeps the other side on their toes, and that causes some splits,” said Bulen, daughter of David and Janine Bulen.
“She’s really good at spreading the net,” Franzen said. “She’s probably the best setter this school has ever seen. Honestly. She’s amazing. I love hitting off of her.”
With the new format – 12 three-team regionals, winners advance to state – the room for error was next to zilch. But this squad dealt with the pressure and put forth the final notice that, even after losing key seniors Sloan Lovett, Tiffany Morlan, Claire Ochsner and Jessi Wymore to graduation last year, this team wasn’t taking any kind of step back. Instead, they’re waltzing back to Denver.
“These kids felt a lot of pressure this year, I think, to live up to the fact that Sloan and Claire had graduated. Last year’s group of seniors was a tough group,” DHS head coach Robin Oliger said. “From the very beginning, we talked about we didn’t want to be a one-and-done. Our goal still is to get to the state tournament and not be a one-and-done.”
Durango steamrolled through the first set with relative ease, but the Cyclones’ offense and sizeable block got in gear in the second set as neither team proved able to build much of a cushion. Pueblo West made the decisive run, roaring from down three to a 24-23 lead on a block from Alegra Shippy and Mattison Dabovich. Tied at 25, DHS committed two attack errors to open the door for the Pueblo West victory.
Durango again found itself in the third set, with Bulen setting players from all sorts of angles. But the decisive set proved to be similar to the second in that no team could make a run of more than a couple of points in a set that saw the score tied on 16 different occasions. But this time, the Demons had the late burst, finally pulling ahead 24-22 before conceding a point. But Franzen wouldn’t be denied one last home-court kill.
“So when they hit the ball, it was right into these big trees’ hands. So we told them to be patient so they could pick their shots and not have to go straight into the block,” Oliger said.
“It kept them out of transition, and our game from the get-go was to keep them, you know, in a position where they couldn’t run their offense.”
Durango wasted little time in the opener, rolling to a 25-20, 25-15, 25-14 win over Delta, which also lost 3-0 to Pueblo West. Franzen had 15 kills and 10 digs, while Brammer killed 11. Clark had 13 digs, while Bulen added 35 assists.
Now Durango can focus on winning its first state crown since 1997. But the first goal for the Demons is to shimmy their way out of pool play for the first time in this three-year run. After that, it’s anybody’s game.
“The senior girls are the ones that have to be the leaders and set the tone of the game, and I think we did,” Bulen said. “And we’re going to have to keep following with that tone throughout state.”