The Dulce High School volleyball team became the first in school history to advance to the Class 2A state championship game after defeating Mesilla Valley Christian School 8-25,26-24, 25-23, 20-25,18-16 in the semifinals of the 2018 State volleyball tournament. The Hawks lost to Texico High School 25-18, 25-22, 25-12 in the championship game. The team is shown with its second-place trophy Nov. 17 at the Santa Ana Star Center.
By George Morse Sports and Outdoors
The Dulce High School volleyball team soared into new territory at the 2018 State volleyball tournament at the Santa Ana Star Center in Albuquerque. Staring down defeat in the semifinals Nov. 16 against Mesilla Valley Christian School, the Lady Hawks came back to defeat Mesilla Valley 8-25, 26-24, 25-23, 20-25, 18-16 to advance to the Class 2A state championship game for the first time in school history.
There was no storybook ending, as Texico High School swept the Hawks 25-18, 25-22, 25-12 to win the Wolverines fifth straight state championship Nov. 17 in the championship game. That did not dim the pride that the coaches, players and fans felt for their team.
‘No words can express how proud I am of these girls,” Dulce Coach Kathleen Salazar-Valdez said. “They are humble players who win with class. They’re great kids and Dulce is a great school.”
That greatness came out in the Hawks stirring semifinal victory over Mesilla Valley. It took a while for Dulce to overcome the nerves that they were experiencing facing the top-seeded SonBlazers. In the first set, the hawks struggled in their serve-receive game. Mesilla Valley scored too many easy points without having to work for them. It looked like it was going to be a short stay in the semifinals for Dulce.
“After that set, I told them that ‘I don’t know what I can say to you to you so you believe you are the team I believe you can be,’” Coach Salazar-Valdez said. “It will happen only if you guys believe it.”
Dulce volleyball coach Kathleen Salazar-Valdez talks to her team between sets in the Class 2A state volletball semifinals.
It was a different team that showed up in the second set for Dulce.
There were no more easy points for the SonBlazers. The Hawks battled tooth-and-nail. An ace serve by Kristen Manwell tied the score at 21-21 and a kill by Jaelyn Reval gave Dulce the lead. Mesilla Valley came back to tie the score and the two teams battled back-and-forth. At set point, a kill by Brooke Vigil gave Dulce a 26-24 victory. The Hawks now knew they could play with the SonBlazers and that they belonged to be where they were. Dulce’s devoted fans were now involved and their cheers helped energize the Hawks.
The second set saw Dulce battle behind the hitting of junior Caitlin Duncan. A southpaw swinger, Duncan gave the SonBlazers fits in the middle and had four kills as Dulce took off and had a 16-7 lead. Mesilla valley battled back behind the hitting of Annika Conn and closed to within a point of Dulce at 19-20 after a Conn kill.
Dulce's Caitlin Duncan sends the ball past Mesilla Valley's blockers in the Class 2A state semifinals.
Dulce held off the SonBlazers with Vigil, Duncan and Tionne Lovato contributing kills that kept Mesilla from catching the Hawks. An attempted kill by Mesilla Valley landed out of bounds at set point. Dulce won 25-23 and took a 2-1 lead in the match.
It looked like Dulce would end the match when they jumped out to a 5-0 lead behind the serving of Manwell and the hitting of Reval. Conn refused to surrender and started slamming down kills. It was obvious to all watching that the SonBlazers were setting the ball to Conn every chance they got. Even when she was in the back row, the sets were nearly always headed her way. She had kill after kill until the SonBlazers took a 16-15 lead.
Despite the efforts of Duncan and Vigil, Conn led Mesilla Valley to a 23-20 lead with another kill. With Conn in the back row, another hitter came through for the SonBlazers. Jayce Coyle put down two kills to give Mesilla Valley a 25-20 victory.
The match entered a fifth set played to 15 points. Could Dulce regain the momentum they once had or had it moved over to Mesilla Valley.
Behind Conn and setter Jaiden Coyle, the SonBlazers took early leads of 4-1 and 7-3. Dulce came back behind kills from Vigil and Reval. An ace by Manwell gave the Hawks a 10-9 lead.
Conn led the SonBlazers back and her kill made the score 14-12, giving Mesilla valley match point.
Never say die Dulce came up with a big block by Vigil to save one match point. Duncan then soared and slammed down a nasty kill to tie the score 14-14.
Two more Conn kills gave the SonBlazers two more match points. Both time the Hawks fought back to tie the score. It was 16-16 after a Duncan kill.
Dulce scored the next point and the Hawks had a 17-16 lead. At match point, the SonBlazers set Conn in the back row. When her attempt at another kill sailed over the end line and out of bounds , Dulce had won the set and the match.
It was a little heart-breaking to see Conn burst into tears. It was even more heart-warming to see the exhilaration and excitement on the Hawks faces as they celebrated their victory. For the first time, Dulce was headed to the championship game.
In the championship game, Dulce faced a battle-tested and seasoned team that had won four state championships and were seeking a fifth. A small town right on the state line between Texas and New Mexico, Texico has produced numerous state championship volleyball and girls basketball state champions.
In the championship match, Texico showed early on that they have not just two hitters, but are deep with girls that can put the ball down. Dulce may have been suffering some championship game nerves. The Wolverines quickly established themselves up front and took a 20-9 lead. Dulce started to play better in the later stages of the first set, but Texico’s lead was too great to overcome. The Wolverines took the first set 25-18 to take a 1-0 lead.
The second set saw Dulce settle down and play better. Behind Reval and Duncan, Dulce built an early 8-5 lead. Texico seemed to be having difficulty finding the range from this side of the net. Hitting errors by the Wolverines led to the Hawks increasing their lead to 13-8.
A kill by Kaitlyn Roderick gave Texico the serve and Ashley Hill served six straight points to give Texico a 15-13 lead. Roderick and Riley Thompson proved to be forces in the middle that Dulce had trouble dealing with. One or the other came up with big blocks and kills to stop any future runs by the Hawks. After three kills by Duncan gave Dulce a 17-16 lead, the Wolverines moved back in front 19-17 and never trailed again. Dulce fought off two set points thanks to kills by Reval, but Texico prevailed 25-22 to take a 2-0 lead.
In the third set, the Wolverines were playing with confidence and the Hawks were fighting to survive. Texico pulled away dominated the third set, winning 25-12 to take their fifth straight state championship.
There were tears and smiles from the Dulce players. It was not the ending that they’d fought all season for. There was pride in their accomplishments. For seniors Reval and Vigil, it was their final game for the Hawks. For the underclassmen, a taste of what it was like and a hunger to return.
“It was a new experience for us,” Duncan said. No one ever made it this far and we made history. It was an eye opener. We’ll know what to expect.”
Dulce's Caitlin Duncan goes on the attack against Mesilla ValleyDu
Dulce libero Alancia Herrera goes down for a dig against Texico in the Class 2A state championship game.
Dulce setter Jasmine Salazar sets for her hitters against Texico.