DENVER – Big rallies by both teams. Hyped crowds. A berth in the state semifinals on the line.
It had about everything someone could want from a volleyball match.
Only for Bayfield, it didn’t have the desired result.
The third-ranked Bayfield High School volleyball team’s season came to a close Saturday as No. 6 Gunnison held on for a five-set victory in the final game of pool play at the CHSAA Class 3A Girls Volleyball State Championships at the Denver Coliseum.
The Wolverines fell 23-25, 25-22, 24-26, 26-24, 15-13 to the Cowboys.
Sophomore middle hitter Kirstie Hillyer had 28 kills to lead Bayfield, and Jen Phelps chipped in 16. Suzie Rhodes had 58 assists despite some uncharacteristically disjointed passing from the BHS defense that had her sprinting all over the court, much to the chagrin of head coach Kelley Rifilato.
“But, honestly, the first couple of games, Suzie had a tough time because the passes were horrible,” Rifilato said.
“It wasn’t that they served unusually tough, we just mentally couldn’t get the ball on target and making ridiculous errors and not moving. ... And that sets the tone for the whole game. The whole game was chaotic.”
Bayfield eked out a win in the first set, then the comeback-fest hit its apex.
The Wolverines took a 21-17 lead in the second set before the Cowboys closed on an 8-1 run to even the match.
Gunnison seemed primed to take a 2-1 lead, leading by as many as eight on multiple occasions and holding a 23-19 lead late before the Wolverines rallied behind Phelps and Jenna Sirios to pull out a 26-24 victory.
Bayfield had a chance to shut the door and advance in the fourth set with a 22-20 lead late. But Gunnison quickly got back into the lead, then held off Bayfield by scoring the final two points of the set on a serving error and attack error by the Wolverines to push the match to five.
Bayfield tried to rally from a 10-6 hole in the final set, getting even at 13, but a kill by Jordan Wallin and an ace by Sarah Shamblin shut the door and sent the Cowboys riding on into the semis.
Hillyer credited the Gunnison defense for being able to throw the Wolverines off their game.
“Gunnison, they were hustling a lot. They were getting up everything, so it was tough to play against them,” said Hillyer, daughter of Laura and Rich Hillyer.
Rifilato said the Cowboys’ tip kills and dumps became contagious, infecting BHS, a team that doesn’t employ such tactics often, preferring instead to fire away.
“There was a lot of mad scrambles because of the dumping, the tipping ... it does take you out of your game, because we have people standing around instead of moving and going to get the ball,” she said. “And that’s so unusual for us.”
The Wolverines finished the season 23-4 in their fourth consecutive trip to state. And while the loss brought to a close the prolific careers of Layne Bulwan, Jordyn Harrison, Micaela Knickerbocker, Kayla D. and Kayla J. McCoy, Phelps and Lindsey Reinmuth, Hillyer, a sophomore, was optimistic about the future – and a fifth consecutive trip to Denver.
“We’re really shooting for that, and I think we’ll be able to do it. We’ve got some really good players coming back next year, and I think if we really push for it, we can get there,” Hillyer said.