For anyone was wondering just how big an April 15 matchup between the Montezuma-Cortez High School and Durango High School volleyball teams was, the large contingency of fans packed into the gymnasium clearly answered the question.
Fans wondering just how good this year’s Lady Panthers team is had their question answered as well as M-CHS dominated play after a tough opening set and ran away for a 22-25, 26-24, 25-16, 25-18 victory over their longtime rivals.
The resounding victory improved M-CHS’s record to a perfect 10-0 on the year, while Durango fell to 8-2 overall. The Lady Panthers entered the match as the seventh-ranked team in Colorado’s 3A classification according to the Colorado High School Activity Association’s latest poll. Durango entered the match ranked eighth overall in Class 4A.
“It was super-intense,” M-CHS junior Avery Wright said. “It was supposed to be the undefeated match because (Durango) was undefeated, but they lost (to Bayfield) last night. We wanted to keep our undefeated title, so we fought hard for that.”
While the match featured moments of excellence for both sides, Durango dictated the pace throughout the opening set and eventually jumped out to an 18-12 lead after a string of six well-placed serves by senior Tatum Bergl.
Although M-CHS fought back on the strength of solid defense by senior Amber Wood and senior Devon McHenry, the Lady Panthers were never able to pull closer than two points and eventually dropped the opening set by three.
Somewhat surprised, but by no means discouraged by her team’s opening set difficulties, M-CHS head coach Joye McHenry gathered players together and regrouped before a second set that saw the Lady Panthers seize control early and never look back.
A hard kill by a soaring Wright on the opening point of the set the tone and although Durango jumped out to a 12-3 lead, several well-played points by M-CHS and a beautifully placed ace by junior Adezdiin Boeckman put the Lady Panthers ahead 21-18.
After several hotly contested points, M-CHS and Durango found themselves tied, 24-24, before an error by Durango and an ace by McHenry gave the Lady Panthers a second set victory and drew cheers from the school’s ruckus student section.
“Our crowd was amazing,” M-CHS senior Myka Glover said. “It felt so good to have them with us. It was huge.”
Seemingly eager to seize control of the match after their second set victory, M-CHS began to fire on all cylinders during a third set in which Wright, McHenry and Glover hammered down numerous resounding kills.
The Lady Panthers height at the net also bothered Durango as multiple blocks by Glover, McHenry and Wright led to several kill attempts by Demons players sailing far beyond the back line.
“We have a lot of height,” said Glovert. “It’s funny because we always have jokes with ourselves after we get three blocks in a row. Our defense is like, ‘Hey, can we get a dig? Can you guys stop blocking?”
After smashing their way to a dominant 25-16 victory in the third set, M-CHS refused to let up throughout a final set that saw the Lady Panthers pull ahead 22-16 after a block and a kill by senior Kylie Lake.
With the M-CHS student section screaming, ‘Warm up the bus,’ Wright put an exclamation point on her team’s victory with a massive kill down the line. As several fans rushed onto the court, Lady Panthers players hugged and exchanged high-fives with one another and coaches.
“We’ve been playing with each other for five years since I transferred in seventh grade, so we know each other so well,” Wright said. “We know where we are on the court and off the court, and I’m so grateful for all (of my teammates).”
“I’ve never had a team like this where we are all bonded so well,” Glover said. “We have team dinners every week where we are talking and bonding. We’re all so close and it’s amazing.”
Now two games away from the conclusion of their regular season, M-CHS look to keep its undefeated record intact when it hits the road to face Pagosa Springs on April 16 and Dove Creek on April 20.
The Lady Panthers will then begin what they hope will be a deep postseason run that culminates in a state title.
“I think that we can go to state for sure and I think we can win state,” Glover said. “We are constantly watching the other teams on (NFHS Network) and I think we can take it. This team is amazing.”