The moment of victory for the Kit Carson Wildcats.
Mayhan Photography

On to State!

By Betsy Barnett

November 8, 2022

Southeastern Colorado is filled with some exceptional volleyball players and over the weekend six area teams that had qualified for the Regional Tournaments competed in hard-hitting, fast-paced volleyball action. Three of those teams came out of the hunt and qualified for the 1A State Volleyball Tournament that will be held in Denver on November 10, 11, 12.

There were two area teams who were crowned Regional champions including Kit Carson who won the Region 2 Tournament dominating Loveland Academy and Haxtun to advance to the 1A state volleyball championships seeded #2 in the Big Show. The second area team that earned a regional championship was the 24-1 McClave Cardinals who earned the Region 3 crown defeating Weldon Valley and Springfield. The Cards enter the 1A state volleyball tournament seeded #3.

Wiley was favored to win the Region 6 tournament but ran into a tough Briggsdale group losing in the regional finals, 3-2. Briggsdale qualified out-right into the 1A state volleyball tournament and is seeded #11 in the bracket. Because of their exceptionally strong record, the Wiley Panthers (18-4) drew a wild card position in the tournament where CHSAA has seeded them #6 in the bracket.

Eads advanced to the Region 1 finals but was controlled by the top team in the state, Merino (#1), in three straight sets. Springfield’s season ended at the Region 3 tournament at the hands of McClave, and Cheraw was eliminated by Fleming (#4) in the Region 4 championship match.

Kit Carson (#2) and McClave (#3) will both receive byes on Thursday morning and will wait to play the winners within their brackets.

Wiley (#6) has a revenge match right away with Briggsdale (#11) on Thursday morning with the winner advancing to take on McClave. Kit Carson will wait to see who they will play between #7 Simla and #10 Otis who are pairing off at 12:30 pm on Thursday.

Coach Jasmine Jacobs took over the Kit Carson Volleyball dynasty after longtime legendary head coach Penny Isenbart left the school and moved back to Stratton where she and her Eagles have just qualified for the 1A state volleyball tournament after Stratton’s many years of early elimination. But, despite seemingly being in the shadow of the legendary Isenbart, Jacobs has taken only two years to create another powerhouse program for Kit Carson. Her style is much different than her predecessor, but for her particular group of girls it is obviously working.

On Friday in Kit Carson at the Region 2 Tournament the Wildcats were firing on all cylinders and never gave up a set destroying Loveland Academy in set scores of 25-7, 25-11, and 25-13; and then defeating an athletic Haxtun group in three identical and exciting set scores of 25-23, 25-23 and 25-23.

Jacobs said after winning the Region 1 crown, “The girls did a great job this weekend! They continued to push themselves and kept their composure when things became challenging. They didn’t let up and played their game versus their opponents’.”

Jacobs, who had to reinvent her Wildcat team after a month on the court after losing her starting setter, foreign exchange student Ludovica Brida from Italy (297 assists in 41 sets), showed just what kind of a coach she was as she immediately brought up a freshman, Shay Rady, into Brida’s position. Rady knew the system but in junior high had also been a hitter. But Jacobs knew Rady was a worker and she quickly developed into the kind of setter the power hitters from Kit Carson needed.

After solving the setter dilemma, the rest, as they say, was history as the Cats just got better and better as the four athletic Wildcat hitters, including outsides Kenzie Waggoner and Lindsey Mayhan and middle hitters Tess Johnson and Payge Booker-Rady, began to jive with Rady.

The final key to the ingredient to the success of the Wildcats prowls around in the backrow and that is senior libero Torrie Randel who is able to turn dig after dig into playable balls for Rady.

The Haxtun game was an exciting one as the Wildcats jumped out to a 6-0 lead forcing a time out for the Lady Bulldogs. As often happens, the Bulldogs came roaring back into the game and got within a point, 11-10, forcing a KC timeout. The Cats then used the service line as a weapon as multiple aces started stacking up gaining them an 18-13 lead.

Tess Johnson battled in the late stages of the first set getting three big blocks that saved KC from the final Haxtun push.

Waggoner was a real threat in the next two games as the senior has a knack of finding the open shot whether it be cross-court, straight down or along the sideline. Her net work was phenomenal through the midway point of the second set as she helped to bring Kit Carson back into a set where they were trailing 11-17 at one point. Mayhan tied the game at 20-20 on a kill and then Booker-Rady grabbed the lead for good, 21-20, on an ace serve. Waggoner rotated to the front just in time to get two kills after Haxtun got the lead 22-23. With the score 24-23, Mayhan had a massive block for the final point.

The third game was just as tight as the first two with both teams using their strong hitting to their advantage. As Waggoner continued to get kills down, Johnson and Booker-Rady from the middle worked to control the hard hitters from Haxtun at the net. The Cats got down 20-22 and called a time out. When they came back Waggoner had rotated to the front and gained the next two points to tie the game 22-22. Haxtun roared back with a kill but then missed a crucial serve. Mayhan took advantage of the mistake and put over an ace serve gaining the 24-23 advantage. Mayhan would finish the match with a strong kill from the outside to win the set, match and regional championship.

The stats from the two teams were nearly identical as both teams’ attacks were evenly matched. Haxtun had 34 kills to Kit Carson’s 33 kills. The Cats got the upper advantage in two areas. The first was on the service line where they dropped in 9 ace serves compared to just two from the Bulldogs. The Cats also defended the net much better with 9 blocks compared to Haxtun’s 4 blocks.

Waggoner led with 19 kills, Johnson followed with 7 kills from the middle, Booker-Rady added 4 kills and Mayhan had 3 kills.

Shay Rady led in the serves department nailing 4 ace serves, while Booker-Rady added 2 aces, and Waggoner, Johnson, and Nadaya Buttry each added one ace serve apiece.

Defensively at the net it was Johnson with 3 blocks, Mayhan with 3 blocks, Waggoner with 2 blocks and Booker-Rady with one net denial.

Waggoner and libero Torrie Randel led the way defensively picking up 19 attack balls apiece while Buttry had 14 digs, Johnson had 11 digs, and Booker-Rady had 7 digs.

Kit Carson will depend on four strong hitters including Waggoner who is one of the top hitters in the 1A division in the state. Waggoner has 426 kills to her credits which ranks her fourth in all state classifications. Emma Luce of Meeker is first with 514 kills, Jenna Krise of Briggsdale is second with 438, Sydney Dunning of Lamar is third with 427, and Waggoner is fourth.

Rady will not only bring her setting skills to the state tournament, but the Cats will also depend on her attack skills from the service line (63 aces). Johnson will need to be a big presence at the net. Randel will also be a key component as to whether the Cats can win a state championship—this time with Jacobs at the helm.

McClave Wins Region 3 Crown

By John Contreras

The McClave Lady Cardinals punched their tickets to state by capturing the championship in the Region 3 tournament held at McClave on Friday, Nov. 4.

McClave swept Weldon Valley in its first match by the scores of 25-12, 25-21 and 25-21.

In the match for the regional title, the Lady Cardinals downed Springfield in three-sets (25-14, 25-12, 25-14).

“It was an exciting day for us,” said McClave head coach Melissa Steinbrunn. “We wanted to take the court and challenge ourselves to play the best we have all season. We didn’t want to just win, we wanted to be proud of how we performed, and I would say that we accomplished that.”

The third-year coach went on to say, “The girls knew that it wasn’t just about winning the region, it was about securing a bye at the state tournament, and that was important to us. I’m extremely proud of how they showed up for each other and played their hearts out.”

“We’ve struggled with what we’ve called the second set slump in the back half of our season, and that didn’t happen this weekend,” explained Steinbrunn. “They played clean ball all day. We served 96% against Weldon, which was huge for us because we try to be very aggressive with our serving. Also, our blockers stepped up in a major way. They were all over that net in both games frustrating hitters and forcing their offense to play out of system. Both Weldon Valley and Springfield tried very hard to shut down our middles, but we made some adjustments to get them the ball and our outside hitters were on fire. Our setter (Makayla Phillips) did a fantastic job placing the ball where we needed it and she hit 1,000 assists during the Weldon match, which is always a great accomplishment.”

The dynamic trio of Abrielle Gomez, Ashlynn Steinbrunn, and McKayla Kiniston combined for 29 of the 36 kills the Lady Cardinals had in the match against Weldon Valley.

Gomez crushed 12 kills, Steinbrunn 9, and Kiniston had 8. Mariah Enciso added 6 kills.

Also at the net, Kiniston had 8 blocks, Enciso 7, Gomez 6, and Kierra Coen 4.

Setter Makayla Phillips distributed 34 assists.

The Lady Cardinals were stellar in the backrow with 106 digs on defense.

A. Steinbrunn paved the way with a team-high 23 digs. Kenney Vallejos followed with 22 digs, Kiniston 19, Gomez 14, Makayla Phillips 12, Enciso 10, Kendal Smartt 4 and Coen with 2.

On serve-receive Gomez had 17, Kiniston 15, and Steinbrnn 12.

In the regional championship match, McClave took care of the Springfield Lady Longhorns in three-sets 25-14, 25-12, 25-14.

At the net, Gomez, Kiniston, and Steinbrunn all finished with 8 kills apiece. Enciso had 4 kills.

Gomez also contributed 10 blocks. Kiniston had 4 and Coen 3.

Three players posted double digits in digs. Steinbrunn 16, Kiniston had 12, Gomez 11, Enciso 8, Phillips 5, and Vallejos 4.

Phillips finished the match with 25 assists.

Looking ahead to the Big Show at the Denver Colisem, Steinbrunn said, “We are absolutely looking forward to the state tournament. This is my third year as head coach and my first trip as a coach. We put ourselves in a good position, but we still have work to do. Every team there is a good team. We know every game will be a battle, but we’re excited to have the opportunity to fight it out. It’s awesome to look at the bracket and see our little portion of the state represented by so many great teams. Volleyball has been so dominated by the northern teams, it’s nice to see the southeastern teams making noise.”

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