Courtney Oakes/Special to the Herald
DENVER – The Bayfield High School volleyball team wanted to inside-out Colorado Springs Christian School to open this state tournament.
Consider that mission accomplished – with an exclamation point.
The Wolverines used the middle hitters to open up holes for the outside hitters and made quick work of Colorado Springs Christian School on Friday, winning 3-0 (25-21, 25-15, 25-15) in their opening match of the CHSAA Class 3A Girls Volleyball State Championships at the Denver Coliseum.
Third-seeded Bayfield (23-3), which has been to state four years running, got 15 kills out of 6-5 middle Kirstie Hillyer and 14 more out of Jen Phelps, who was effective both inside and outside of the Wolverines’ attack. Jordyn Harrison had 20 digs and Lindsey Reinmuth 17, while sophomore setter Suzie Rhodes impressed in her first state start, tallying 36 assists.
Hillyer opened the match with a block point, and Phelps, who rotates both in the middle and outside, capped the night with an emphatic kill from the middle. In between, Bayfield used its middle attack so well, particularly Hillyer, that at one point, a young CSCS fan pointed out: “It’s not fair. She doesn’t even have to jump,” the fan said about the Wolverines’ 6-5 middle.
It wasn’t quite that exaggerated – Hillyer got off the ground just fine, thanks – but head coach Kelley Rifilato was more than pleased with what she got out of her front line, as the strength in the middle forced the Lions to shift blocks, opening up opportunities for the likes of Reinmuth, Layne Bulwan and Kayla J. McCoy on the edges.
“I feel like, one, Kirstie’s size is such an advantage for us,” Rifilato said. “And two, she and Jen complement each other nicely because they’re so opposite.”
Phelps said the combo of herself and Hillyer can prove a bit much to deal with for the opposition when both are as on their game as they were Friday.
“We’re both very different,” said Phelps, daughter of Nancy and Trent Phelps. “Kirstie can put the ball down. She’s amazing. And, you know, I don’t know, it does have a different swing of things for us to play opposite each other, but we’re both able to (have success).”
Familiarity helps plenty: Most everybody on the Bayfield roster has experienced life at the Coliseum, and although they started out a bit nervous, by the third set, Rifilato said her charges were so loose they sang along in the huddle with the CSCS student section, which belted out several a cappella jams.
One of those unfamiliar with playing in the pressure-packed atmosphere in Denver is Rhodes. But she took little time acquitting herself, setting quick, across court, forwards, backwards and at any speed or location necessary.
“I think, though, the fast pace of these games suit her better. ... I think she delivered the ball correctly. She got the ball to our middles. She got the ball to our outsides,” Rifilato said of her setter.
Rhodes, for her part, credited her hitters and solid passing while saying the atmosphere didn’t take quite so long to get acclimated to as the uninitiated might have thought.
“It doesn’t take me very long. I mean, we have awesome passes, so that just makes it easy for me to make the perfect set for everybody,” said Rhodes, daughter of Carl and Karin Rhodes.
The Wolverines can avoid the lengthy tiebreakers they endured last year to make the semifinals with a win today over No. 6 seed Gunnison, which would earn them a spot in the semifinals later in the day.
It’s a nice position to be in.
“Exactly. It’s very nice. Last year was very chaotic,” said Phelps, a four-year state tournament veteran.
“For us to come in and win like this feels so good, and we’re all kind of, I think, relieved.”