Elizabeth Hawkins and Alesia Yanowich have touched the ball plenty of times in all of their volleyball matches on Palisade High School’s court.
For both, their final two touches in the building will go down as their most memorable. The two seniors’ back-to-back combined blocks were what lifted the Bulldogs to the state tournament for the first time since 1995.
“That’s my main job, to block on the right side,” Hawkins said. “It’s really exciting that my last two times ever touching the ball on this floor were my two blocks.”
The duo up front cemented third-seeded Palisade’s 25-23, 25-10, 21-25, 25-15 victory over No. 14 Woodland Park in the Class 4A Region 3 Tournament. The Bulldogs (13-2) also defeated No. 22 Falcon earlier in the day, 25-14, 25-15, 25-18, to set up the winner-advances-to-state afternoon match.
The state berth is the culmination of coach Wendy MacAskill’s most experienced squad since taking over the program in 2007. Her daughter, Kendyl, spearheaded the effort, totaling 28 kills as well as 10 solo blocks and four block assists in the two wins.
Now, she’ll be coached by her mother at the state championship in Colorado Springs on May 12-13. She’ll also have tons of experience around her, as eight of Palisade’s 12 players are seniors who have longed for this opportunity.
“This is absolutely crazy,” MacAskill said. “I’ve grown up here, watching my mom with so many teams coming through the program that came close so many times. It feels so good to finally be able to say we’re the group that got to do it. We’ve been playing together for so long, I feel like it’s just meant to be that this is the group that got it done.”
The Bulldogs found themselves in a hole in the first set against the Panthers (9-2), trailing 19-13. However, a few kills by MacAskill pulled Palisade back into the set before Yanowich’s kill tied the set at 19-19 and Caylee Chutka’s ace gave the Bulldogs a 20-19 advantage. Magdalena Latek’s soft touch resulted in a kill in the center of the Panthers, making it 23-19. Finally, the Yanowich sisters ended the set, with Alesia’s kill serving as the penultimate point to set up Ella’s winning spike.
“I feel like, instead of us having slumps necessarily, they had some highs that we just couldn’t quite get past,” MacAskill said. “But we always found a way back. We all were contributing. It wasn’t just one or two people. We all did our jobs today, and that’s why we were able to get it done.”
Palisade cruised in the second set thanks to Chutka’s efforts and some strong serving from Ella Steele. The third set was led by Woodland Park for nearly the whole way, but the Bulldogs wanted to avoid any tension in their final set.
MacAskill, Chutka, Alesia Yanowich and Hawkins each had kills before Ella Yanowich’s back-to-back kills lifted Palisade to a 12-7 lead. MacAskill contributed two more kills and also had an assist on a Yanowich kill and Steele had an ace as Palisade’s lead grew to 20-14.
Finally, Hawkins and Alesia Yanowich’s blocks sealed the deal.
“I can’t even express my feelings right now,” Chutka said. “I’m literally in disbelief. We’ve worked so hard for this this season and I’m just so proud of us.”
Ella Yanowich complemented MacAskill’s 17 kills in the match with 10 of her own, with Chutka adding nine to go along with 14 digs and two aces. MacAskill had 15 digs and Latek 13. Hawkins had one solo block and three block assists and Steele had 21 assists.
In the first match of the day, Falcon (10-5) was poised to make it a morning of misery for Palisade after jumping to a 5-0 lead in the first set. However, MacAskill’s kill began a surge by the Bulldogs, with Chutka also contributing a kill and Ella Yanowich blocking a Falcons attempt. When Alesia Yanowich’s tip over the net gave Palisade a 10-9 lead, the Bulldogs wouldn’t trail for the rest of the set and would only trail for a few moments in the other two sets.
An ace by MacAskill increased the lead to 11-9. Chutka and Hawkins combined for a block in a stretch of play that ultimately led to a Bulldog point. Chutka would earn an ace and MacAskill would continue finding the open spaces between the Falcons as set one ended 25-14 for the Bulldogs.
Palisade didn’t have nearly as much early drama in its second-set victory. Ella Yanowich started the set with an ace, MacAskill and Chutka combined for a block, and Cadence Neste assisted Chutka on another kill as Palisade jumped out to an 8-2 lead.
Hawkins and MacAskill continued to be forces near the net, rejecting Falcons chance after Falcons chance on their way to winning the set, 25-15.
Set three was a little closer for Falcon, which jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Yanowich took over to lift Palisade into the lead for good. Magdalena Latek earned an ace along the way before Yanowich’s kill finished off the match.
In the match, Yanowich had eight kills and 11 digs, Chutka had 10 digs and four aces and Steele had 12 assists.
“We have heart. We wanted it so bad,” Chutka said. “We’re very experienced, and all of us were just ready. It was time.”
OTHER LOCAL RESULTS
Also in the 4A regionals, No. 20 Montrose was swept by No. 5 Coronado and No. 12 Frederick.
In 3A, No. 23 Delta lost to No. 2 Montezuma-Cortez and defeated Manitou Springs.
In 2A, No. 3 Meeker was upset by No. 22 Yuma in five sets and No. 24 Olathe lost both of its matches.