’Hawks united in pink defeat

Not the right result, but the effort was there

Sporting pink uniforms, the Fort Lewis College volleyball women battled Western New Mexico Saturday until they were all also pink in the face.

Despite emotional, energized play, the Skyhawks couldn’t overcome the Mustangs and fell in four sets – 25-18, 21-25, 25-20 and 25-18 – on Pink Digs for the Cure night at Whalen Gymnasium.

“I think everyone wishes the result were different, but we played hard, played as a team, and it was fun,” said senior Jessica Wilson.

The Skyhawks refused to give up in any game, even when down by as much as nine.

In the third game, the Mustangs got up on Fort Lewis 20-11, but the Skyhawks battled back to within three before losing the set 25-20.

“They’re a good team,” said libero Hannah Starbuck. “Right now we’re just trying to play loose and relaxed.”

So it was no surprise it was in the Skyhawks’ relaxed second set that they also looked strongest.

After dropping the first 25-18, the squad came out fast, putting up four unanswered points to lead off the game. They led the Mustangs until Western N.M. tied it up at 14, but a series of strong kills and blocks reopened the lead and paved the way for a powerful spike by Ashley Wells to clinch the game.

Nevertheless, the third-game deficit that proved too large to overcome gave way to a fourth that Western N.M. dominated to clinch the match.

FLC head coach Shelly Aaland said Saturday’s match was very similar to the last meeting between the two squads earlier in the season, which the Skyhawks also lost in four sets. She said Western N.M. is a strange but dynamic team that brings little energy to the court so her team had to create energy on its own.

“They don’t pretend to be anything they’re not,” Aaland said.

What the Mustangs are, she said, is Angelina Pulu and Ziona Verhulsdonk, who combined for 35 of Western N.M.’s 59 kills.

Aaland said she knew her squad couldn’t shut down the two girls down so FLC just tried to slow them down, with little success.

Starbuck led the defensive effort for the Skyhawks, coming up with 25 digs. She was followed by the freshman Wells, who had 12.

With 10 total blocks, the Skyhawks also improved their game at the net.

Aaland said she rearranged FLC’s positioning some to get Taylor Frederking in position to do more blocking, and Frederking said she thought it paid off.

“I think it was good we switched,” she said. “Too bad it couldn’t have turned out better.”

On offense, the Skyhawks spread the kill wealth around, Wilson leading with 19.

In addition to her defensive efforts, Wells also had another good showing on offense, putting down 17 points after leading the squad in kills Friday.

Stephani Sonka had 10 kills, third on the team.

Before the match, a Pink Digs for the Cure ceremony recognized a handful of cancer survivors and the efforts of the Durango community in raising money for the Women’s Health Coalition’s Emergency Scholarship Fund.

A group of halloween-costumed FLC students also provided a sideshow, heckling the Western N.M. squad and coaches throughout the match. One shirtless man topped off with a bright orange afro even tried to bribe an official in jest with a handful of cash before stealing his flag. The officials stopped the match twice to try to calm the group.

heraldsports@durangoherald.com