Moffat County volleyball splits first away, home games to start spring season
For Craig Press
Few volleyball coaches hope their teams take a match to a fifth set, but to have two such occasions in a row can be especially stressful.
Even so, Moffat County High School head coach Jessica Profumo saw strong performances from her athletes with dual 3-2 events with similar progress yet opposite conclusions.
MCHS moved to 1-1 Saturday in a five-set loss to Gunnison that marked the home opener for the Lady Bulldogs. The narrow defeat came after a win almost equally close while on the road the Thursday before in Rifle.
The victory over the Bears was the start of the schedule as the sport — typically held in the fall — finally kicked off the inaugural Season C instituted by Colorado High School Sports and Activities.
Lady Dogs started with a 25-16 loss in their first set of the night Thursday, only to move ahead with 25-19 and 25-23 triumphs before the Bears went 25-18 in the fourth to even up the night’s tally at 2-2.
MoCo girls had more in store, though, getting their first W at 15-7.
The first time back for competition on the home floor — the program’s first since October 2019 — was a tricky one, noted MCHS junior Abbe Adams.
“We’re still getting used to each other and playing again, and with the masks. It all feels weird, but it feels good.” she said. “We all have a lot of love for this sport.”
The game in Craig also marked the first true game of the season for the visiting Lady Cowboys, who went 1-2 in tournament play a week earlier. A little extra time on the court may have helped them get to 25 faster in the opening set, edging out the Bulldogs’ 21.
But, the hosting Bulldogs showed they were just getting warmed up, with a set of early aces by Olivia Profumo helping them gain momentum. The two teams were neck and neck until a tie at the 14 mark saw Gunnison girls lose control as MoCo went on a 9-1 run before closing it at 25-19.
The third set went the way of the Bulldogs as well, including a six-point run that got them to 13-5, the first of three instances in the round where they boasted an eight-point deficit. However, things started getting shaky after Moffat’s 20-12 advantage as Cowboys slowly sidled up to them on the scoreboard before the Dogs moved to 2-1 at 25-22.
As in Rifle, the fourth set proved to be MoCo’s Achilles heel, trailing the entire round — a trio of aces by Adams coming late to keep Gunnison girls on their toes — before falling 23-19 to set up the tiebreaker.
Adams put up a dominating block to start the final set that bolstered her teammates’ confidence, but a handful of errors from there helped Gunnison take the lead and ride it to a 15-11 finale for the Cowboys’ first win in 3A Western Slope League play.
“We had a lot of emotions going, and they’re a tough team,” Adams said of Gunnison. “I think our energy was good, we were always cheering each other on. There wasn’t any bad energy.”
Fellow junior Taytum Smercina agreed the atmosphere was what they wanted.
“It was better to play and lose and have a good time playing than to just lose and have a bad time,” she said. “Our team this year, we’re really close.”
Despite the loss, coach Profumo said the gameplay versus Gunnison was an improvement than what she had seen two days earlier.
“They did everything better than they did on Thursday,” she said. “There was just some jitters and a short time to prepare.”
Having to keep going after four sets also is a test of any player’s resolve, she said.
“To be able to stay up with that energy and emotionally, that’s hard,” Profumo said.
Apart from a season that began in March rather than August, Profumo said her players have also had to find new ways to communicate on the court, given the difficulty of talking with COVID facemasks. While all teams across the state have the same hindrance, that doesn’t make it any easier.
“We’ve been discussing how we have to visually communicate with each other since nobody can hear each other with these things on,” she said, motioning to her facemask. “People are calling the ball, telling each other when they’re hitting or setting, but nobody can hear. Even if we scream it, it’s muffled, so what words they’re saying, we don’t know. We’ve had to come up with a whole new way of communicating. It’s challenging, but they’re doing really great things.”
MCHS will have a bevy of home games at the start of the schedule, with the coming week seeing competition in the Dog House, including league opponent Coal Ridge Tuesday and non-league foe Lake County two days later.
First, the Lady Dogs will see a Monday rematch with Rifle.
“If the girls show up with the same intensity they had today, it should be our game,” Profumo said.
All three levels of Bulldog volleyball moved to 1-1 Saturday, with the junior varsity squad eliciting ear-splitting spectator noise in their first win, going 25-15 and 28-26 over Gunnison.
“That was a great feeling for the girls to come back and get excited and dig deep to get that win,” JV coach Stacy Atkin said.
While MCHS’s C-Team couldn’t follow a win against Rifle with one against the Cowboys — on the wrong end of a 2-1 count with a 15-13 final set not in their favor — coach Tiawna Smercina expects the younger players, a roster of primarily freshmen, to have a strong season.
“One of the biggest things they have right now is we’ve really broken things down so they know their rotations and know who’s best in each position,” she said.
Tiawna Smercina is a product of the Bulldog volleyball program, the Class of 2014 athlete moving on from the MCHS gym to play the sport at Northeastern Junior College, now back in the familiar locale.
“I’ve been wanting to coach forever, but I haven’t had the opportunity to with work. But I put in for it, and of course I wind up coaching during a pandemic,” Tiawna laughed. “This was my gym that I used to play in, and now it’s theirs, and that’s heartwarming to see.”
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