Strength vs. strength typically makes for a compelling matchup.
So when No. 21 Durango and No. 4 Thomas Jefferson get together at the Class 4A Region 4 tournament this weekend in Denver, expect a couple of solid teams to test that theory.
Thomas Jefferson (21-1) boasts two of the top four kill leaders in the state in Class 4A and are sixth overall in the category as a team, and the Spartans will test those skills against the 10th-ranked block of the Demons (12-11) in the last of three matches Saturday at Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver.
“It’s huge,” DHS head coach Colleen Keresey said Thursday of the Durango block. “I think what we’ve heard from them, we can frustrate them easily with our block, so that’s our main goal.”
Jessica Jackson is second in the state with 364 kills, while Celeste James is fourth with 345. Meanwhile, Durango’s Bella Bernazzani ranks 10th in the state individually in blocks, while teammate Elise Christiansen is 21st, and the duo went 1-2 in the Southwestern League in that category.
“It’s really important because then they’ll start tipping, and our back row will pick that up,” said Bernazzani, daughter of John and Robin Bernazzani. “And those are a lot easier to pass up, and that just throws our whole offense on.”
The Demons have some experience going against some of the state’s top hitters. Alexa Smith of Lewis-Palmer, Naomi Pennecoose of Montezuma-Cortez and Elizabeth Porter of Silver Creek all rank in the top 15 in kills, and Durango faced all three this season.
“Not only do a good job of blocking bit hitters, but we do a good job of frustrating hitters, so it’s very important for us to put up a solid, aggressive block this weekend,” Keresey said.
First, however, the Demons have to get through No. 33 Greeley Central (11-12). For all the potentially entertaining matchups against Thomas Jefferson, that match means little if Durango can’t first find its way past the Wildcats. And, with back-to-back matches, the Demons would be best served to wrap the match as soon as possible before moving on to play the Spartans on the Spartans’ home court.
“We know that it’s an important game because nothing matters if we don’t beat (Greeley Central),” Keresey said. “It’s definitely a game we cannot overlook, but it’s more of ... playing our volleyball and getting it done in three.”
Durango has a streak to protect, as well. The Demons have ended their season with a trip to the Denver Coliseum for the state tournament the last three years. And this senior class doesn’t want to see that run end on their watch.
“We just really want to get to state. We just really want to be at practice on Monday,” Bernazzani said.