Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Forget volleyball, this was a marathon.
And when the Bobcats reached their final mile, it took a freshman to save the seniors’ season.
Miel Diaz served up a kill and three aces on the homestretch of Game 5 of the Ignacio High School volleyball team’s third consecutive match Saturday at the San Juan Basin League Class 2A District 3 Tournament, and the Bobcats used one last surge of energy to sprint ahead of the Mancos Bluejays to secure third place in the league and lock down a berth at regionals for the first time in twelve years.
Ignacio came from four points down in Game 5 to beat Mancos 15-13 and 3-2 after trading the first four games 24-26, 25-12, 25-15, 18-25.
“I’m amazed,” said Diaz, almost choking on her words as her senior teammates cried in the background after Diaz’s final ace ricocheted off Bluejays’ wings and out of bounds.
“It feels amazing; it feels amazing to be able to do that.”
After nearly six hours of volleyball with only short breaks for warmups in between Ignacio’s matches – first a 3-1 win over Ridgway, then a 3-1 loss to Dolores – the Bobcats stumbled down the final stretch.
After taking a 2-1 lead over Mancos, the hunched-over Bobcats seemed to lose focus in Game 4, gifting the Bluejays a too-easy win to set up the final frame of play.
There, the teams traded the lead early, until leading 10-9, the Bluejays put down three consecutive kills to take a four point-lead.
Then, Diaz scored a kill to pull within 13-10 and take over serving duties.
With their aggressive serves, the Bobcats served up scores of aces early in the day, but as the miles pounded on, those serves started finding the net as often as they went over it.
After all, “serving tough can go sour,” IHS first-year head coach Thaddeus Cano said.
And that’s how at 13-12 Diaz found herself behind the back line, her stress-contorted brow dripping with sweat as she gingerly stepped up, tossed the ball and struck.
“What’s going through my head is ‘Don’t miss the serve. This is the seniors’ last chance,’” said Diaz, daughter of Danielle Burns.
One ace, another ace, throw in a Lucero tip kill, and score one more ace for the win.
“Miel, right there as a freshman, just incredible right there,” Cano said.
But it took a team effort all day to get there, led by seniors Destinee Lucero and Michelle Simmons.
“I think we just decided it was now or never,” said Simmons, daughter of Mel Baker and Kelly Herrera.
The duo provided the Bobcats’ most potent offensive weapons throughout play Saturday, Simmons with a punishing spike and Lucero with a quick, pivoting tip to court corners that she used to score Ignacio’s 14th point in the final game.
“I can just see it out of the corner of my eye and see what’s open,” said Lucero, daughter of David and Leora Lucero.
For her part, Simmons added three big kills in that final game to keep the Bobcats on the Bluejay’s trail each time they started to pull away.
“The difference was either the end of our season or regionals,” Simmons said about the Bobcats’ gut-check moments as the marathon day wore on.
And of her powerful kills: “I just try to put everything into my swing because I don’t want it to come back.”
Cano tipped his hat to IHS athletic trainer Kolin Tomlinson, who has helped the girls improve their strength and conditioning over the course of the season, including their preseason workouts. That made all the difference, Cano said, in getting the Bobcats through 13 sets Saturday.
But it didn’t always keep them perfect, and the Bobcats’ biggest weakness was a sometimes-gaping hole in the middle of their court – a hole that cost them.
After a resounding 21-25, 25-10, 25-16, 25-19 win over Ridgway in the first round, Dolores – who Ignacio was hoping to pick off after two losses in the regular season – caught the Bobcats sitting on their haunches and kept dropping balls into mid court.
“We struggled a little with confidence being ready for and going for the ball,” Cano said of his team’s 23-25, 25-15, 25-14, 25-19 loss to the Bears.
But after a finish like Saturday’s finish, the Bobcats’ confidence stock is on the rise.
“We’re actually training them now how to win,” Cano said.
It’s working. With their two tournament wins, the Bobcats improved to 15-7 heading into the regional tournament, which Telluride will host after beating Dolores in straight sets in Saturday’s final at IHS.
It’s the Bobcats’ first winning record in nearly a decade.
“Very, very happy for the girls,” Cano said. “It’s all about the girls, digging down, right there. “I’m so happy and proud of them.”
“Oh it’s absolutely my dream,” Diaz said of the season so far. “I didn’t think I could do it, but we made it possible.”