There is crying in volleyball

'Cats shed happy tears after qualifying for state

Fruita Monument’s Jordan Eatwell, 11, hits past the block attempt by Grand Junction’s Kate Olsen during the first game of Saturday’s match at Fruita during the Class 5A regional volleyball tournament. The Wildcats won the regional championship to qualify for the state tournament.

Fruita Monument’s Jordan Eatwell, left, and Joelle Lefevre celebrate as they race toward their teammates after the Wildcats defeated the Tigers on their way to winning the Class 5A regional championship and qualifying for state.

Twenty minutes after the Class 5A Region 10 volleyball tournament ended, MacKenzie Schuller’s face remained red and her eyes wet, and she was on the cusp of another flood of tears as she explained, “I was bawling, and I can’t stop.”

But the Fruita Monument High School senior’s reason for crying was the preferred one in the aftermath of hard-fought match against Fort Collins. At stake Saturday was a long-desired reward worth crying about, win or lose: a state tournament berth.

So, Schuller smiled when she said, “They’re happy tears, I swear.”

The emotion flowed for Schuller and the rest of the Wildcats the moment hitter Jordan Eatwell wound up one last time on the left side and unleashed a spike that slammed into the court’s far right corner.

It was game point. It was match point. It was time to celebrate something Grand Valley volleyball teams don’t do often.

Fruita punched its ticket to this weekend’s state tournament in Denver with a 25-21, 27-25, 18-25, 25-22 victory over a Fort Collins squad that made the Wildcats earn it.

Eatwell admitted the Lambkins’ win in Game 3 and the 22-22
tie in Game 4 was cause for concern, but it also brought out Fruita’s best.

“I was worried, but I have faith in my team,” Eatwell said. “We know we can pull back together, get more energy, get more out of each other.”

And they did.

After a Fort Collins service error put the Wildcats ahead 23-22,
Eatwell offered a glimpse of what was to come one point later when, again on the left side, she belted the ball cross-court to the right side, inside the line and where no Lambkin could touch it. Then came the ball she buried in the right corner as she finished with a flourish fitting of her 20-kill match and 37-kill day.

“I’m really proud of Jordan on the last point to wind up and hit the ball hard the way she did and earn that point with a kill,” Fruita coach Bob Richardson said.

It was an appropriate exclamation point in a match that featured regular claps of thunder from both teams’ big hitters. But some points were less resounding because they had to be. Both front lines did their share of blocking, so each team turned to some finesse, scoring on occasional tips.

Schuller and Fruita setter Savannah Ashmore were the most frequent directors of tips over the Lambkins’ blockers, and in Games 3 and 4 Eatwell added another approach that found open space when the Lambkins’ back row crept too close to the front. Eatwell twice tucked long sets inside the back line, falling untouched for points.

Richardson said most of the tips weren’t going to hit the floor, and that was OK. They were designed to get the tall Fort Collins players on the floor, and they provided a change of pace from the usual swing-away approach and forced an adjustment by the Lambkins.

For the overall difference in the match, though, Richardson and Fort Collins coach Lindsey Blahauvietz offered the same answer: the Wildcats’ defense, which was led by libero Joelle LeFevre and fellow seniors Loryn Chiapuzio and Allie Hatch.

LeFevre had 43 digs in the final match, and she dug up some spikes that had sure-fire kill written all over them.

And as Fruita has done all season, a good save by the back row often begets a good set by Ashmore, who delivered 48 assists against the Lambkins and had 84 in the Wildcats’ two matches.

All eight seniors made contributions, whether it was against Fort Collins or Grand Junction, whom the Wildcats defeated 
25-14, 25-22, 25-23 in the opening match of the regional, or both.

Eatwell had three aces and 18 digs to go with her kills. Ashmore had two blocks and 23 digs to go with her assists.

Schuller had 27 kills, LeFevre totaled 68 digs, and Chiapuzio had 12 kills and 32 digs on the day.

Lindsey Thomson surfaced at opportune times against the Lambkins, delivering five kills and three blocks.

Hatch had 10 digs against the Tigers and 12 against Fort Collins.

Kasey Dollerschell had six kills and a block in the two matches.

Beyond the stats, Richardson praised his players for their ability to prevail when it mattered most in the tight games, not that it was any surprise.

He understood how much a state berth meant to them long before Schuller’s tears began flowing.

“It’s been our goal from the get-go,” Schuller said. “These were the most important games of the season. ... Playing Fort Collins we had to be extremely aggressive and move the ball around. We couldn’t hold back. We had to go for it, we kept telling ourselves.

“We wanted state so bad. How bad we wanted it, I think that was the difference today.”

Tigers fight to finish

Grand Junction gave the Wildcats all they could handle in Games 2 and 3 of their match before bowing. Then, the Tigers threw a scare into Fort Collins before the Lambkins prevailed 25-23, 24-26, 25-12, 19-25, 15-7.

“I feel we made them work for their wins,” first-year Tigers coach Shawna Emmons said. “We got to 20 points first in several games and made errors that cost us.

“Our girls fought so hard. ... I’m disappointed with the losses, but I’m pleased with the performance.”

Senior Courtney Gopinath had 19 kills against Fort Collins and had 25 kills and five aces for the day. Senior Kayla Roberts added 10 kills against the Lambkins and had 14 kills and four aces on the day. Senior Ashley Preuss had seven blocks in the two matches combined.


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