Palisade rallies to beat GJ in volleyball season opener
Palisade sophomore Jessica Bellmire started the Game 4 rally with an ace, one of seven she’d finish the night with Thursday. And four serves later, she delivered another ace, a hard serve that glanced off a Grand Junction player in the back row and sailed too deep for any Tiger to chase down.
Grand Junction called timeout, wrested the serve from the Bulldogs, then promptly gave it back when Palisade’s Ashlyn Brown placed a spike near the back line for a 14-11 lead.
Now serving: Abby Thiessen. Eleven times.
But the Palisade sophomore would have been one and done if not for her agility. Grand Junction sent a spike screaming toward Thiessen, but she narrowly dodged it, and the ball went out of bounds. Point Palisade, the first of 10 in a row, and the beginning of the end for the Tigers in the season-opening volleyball match for both teams.
When Grand Junction finally got a tip kill from Mira Gall to end Thiessen’s run, Palisade led 24-12. The Tigers’ ensuing long serve out of bounds gave the Bulldogs’ the game 25-12, and Palisade kept its energy going in the final game to win the nonleague match 20-25, 25-23, 17-25, 25-12, 15-11.
The rally was a welcome sight for Palisade coach Wendy MacAskill, who fielded an extremely young team a year ago. The Bulldogs remain young with only two seniors, but they’re more seasoned, and MacAskill thought that showed when her team refused to stay down midway through the fourth game.
“We showed a lot of tenacity and a lot of heart,” she said. “We were young last year, and we’ve grown up a little bit. We’ve matured, and I believe the experience we got last year is going to help us this year.”
Hitting errors and serving errors by both teams littered the first three games. Grand Junction got the occasional kill or block by Tia Wright and Gall, but errors were the runaway point-producer.
And the Tigers, for all of their miscues, were playing good enough defense to win the first and third games, and they appeared to be on their way to winning the match, taking a 10-7 lead in Game 4.
Then came Bellmire’s ace, and Palisade stopped making mistakes, and the energy built.
Then came Thiessen’s serves. None of them sailed long. None of them crashed into the net. Each one landed in play, and if it wasn’t Palisade’s offense, led by senior Alyssa Chutka, earning the point, it was Grand Junction continuing to make mistakes.
During Thiessen’s 10-point run at the service line, the Tigers hit out of bounds four times, three of them sailing past the back line, and they hit into the net three times.
“We made mistakes when we shouldn’t have,” Grand Junction coach Shawna Emmons said.
Aside from aces, the server usually isn’t responsible for the point that’s scored, but MacAskill pointed out, “When servers served in, they gave their team a chance. And Abby gave our team a chance and those opportunities, and things started happening.”
It seemed like the Bulldogs flipped a switch in Game 4, but MacAskill saw it differently, saying, “I think we just started out slow and gradually got better as the match went on.”
Chutka, who had a team-high 14 kills, said first-match nerves took a while to settle.
“I think everyone, regardless of age, was nervous,” she said. “I’m a senior, but I get nervous, too. ... We were serving out, hitting into the net, hitting out. We stopped doing those things, and that’s why it got better.”
In Games 4 and 5, Chutka really made her presence felt, as she began to hit with authority and make timely blocks.
In the final game, she delivered a hard cross-court kill to give Palisade a 4-3 lead. She also delivered kills for points 11, 12 and 13 to put the Bulldogs ahead 13-9, getting a block, a hard spike, then some luck when the ball hit the top of the net but went over and straight down.
Lexi Hall added six kills for the Bulldogs, Gracey Higman had a team-high 18 assists and four block assists, and Ashlynn Brown led Palisade with 13 digs.
Grand Junction got 11 kills from Wright and 10 kills from Gall, and Kate Olsen had 19 assists.
■ Eagle Valley defeated Central 25-13, 25-11, 25-21 in the season opener for both teams. Nichole McIvor led the Warriors (0-1) with six kills, and Megan Garner added five kills.