Moffat County volleyball corrals West Grand Mustangs to win narrow home opener
The energy in the Moffat County High School gym was frantic Tuesday night when the Lady Bulldog varsity volleyball team claimed their first winning set of the fall, but that was just a warmup to the cacophony that would come four rounds later.
The home opener for MCHS volleyball was a nail-biting 3-2 victory against the West Grand Mustangs as the Moffat County crew found themselves against an evenly matched and equally determined opponent.
Though not close enough in proximity or size to be considered a rival school for Craig, the Kremmling team’s three straight years rolling over the Bulldogs without losing a set has made them a prime target for a Moffat County beatdown, and the cards were already working against them in the opening round.
Were it a poker game, only a straight flush could have beaten Taytum Smercina, who was on fire with four aces in a row midway through the set, her work at the line helping her team take a 25-19 win.
A fifth — of six total A’s throughout the night to lead the group — went completely untouched at match point.
“I feel great about it that the team can rely on me for that,” Taytum said. “I felt a lot of pressure at first, but the team has made it easier.”
With a better sense of what to expect from their hosts, the Mustangs were able to find some holes in the Bulldog defense in the second set, and despite kills by Jenna Timmer and Tiffany Hildebrandt, West Grand won it 25-17.
No sooner had the visiting side gotten their confidence back when the Dogs shut it down again with a 25-20 win in the third set as Jaidyn Steele and Stephenie Swindler kept the Mustangs confused with low serves that barely cleared the net but still got them points.
The pressure was on both sides as it went to set four, yet West Grand refused to quit, taking over after an 11-all tie that saw the Mustangs assemble a 12-4 run by sending MoCo girls every which way on the court before a 25-17 conclusion.
The Lady Dogs’ tendency to show their best teamwork at the end of the evening was apparent as a tighter defense was coupled with an ever-vigilant front row as Hailee Herndon and Olivia Profumo pounded away at everything sent their way.
“I love defense, getting those hard-hitters hitting at you,” Olivia said. “Then you just dig it and everyone is like, ‘Whoa! She just did that!’ It’s a crazy feeling.”
At the line, Ebawnee Smercina nearly brought her number of aces to her younger sister’s with crucial service, five A’s for the night in addition to 13 assists as the team’s setter.
“We just clicked tonight with each other, I don’t know how else to say it,” Ebawnee said. “We knew where everybody was going to be.”
A clutch tip by Bailey Lawton sent the ball to the floor as the night closed 15-9 with a raucous celebration by the girls in blue and white.
Altogether, Timmer led in kills with five, with three for Hildebrandt, who, along with Lawton, also earned three aces.
Tuesday marked the first time Moffat County girls have taken a game to five sets since 2016 and the first time they’ve been on the right side of a 3-2 match on their home court since 2012.
Though they strung together several defensive shutdowns, blocking was not the Dogs’ forte for the evening as they matched up with some towering opposition at the net.
“That was a tall, well-put-together team, and their setter was pretty phenomenal, so I was proud they fought through it all the way to the end,” said MCHS coach Jessica Profumo. “There’s nothing better than knowing you fought hard and get to go home with a smile on your face.”
Profumo noted that several individual standouts for the Mustangs helped West Grand make it a tricky night for the Bulldogs, yet it was stronger cooperation and communication that ultimately won it for her side.
“It seemed to me they had the best chemistry and the best energy, and I’ve told the girls from day one that it’s really not about the best individual player, it’s about the best six people together,” she said.
The varsity team moves into tournament mode this weekend with four games at the Rangely Fall Classic. The Bulldogs will meet the hosting Panthers Friday afternoon, as well as Telluride, followed Saturday morning by Lotus School for Excellence and a rematch with Hayden.
“They’re pumped for that Hayden game. I know they feel like they can play a little bit better than we did, so we want to come out and show that energy,” Profumo said.
A blend of Northwest Colorado imagery and splashy colors now greets Craig drivers and pedestrians.