PEACH VALLEY — Gunnison High School’s volleyball team on Saturday showed the Coal Ridge Titans what it takes to win the Class 3A Western Slope League championship.
Caylor Albers was dominant and led a stellar front-line attack for the defending league champion and fifth-ranked Cowboys, who handed No. 7 Coal Ridge its first loss of the season with a 27-25, 25-18, 26-24 sweep.
“We did not play our best, for sure,” Coal Ridge coach Scott Black said. But you have to give credit to Gunnison for keeping us off balance today. That was a big key.”
For sure, Gunnison (8-3 overall, 2-0 league), which earned a victory over Grand Valley in Parachute later in the day, did a lot of things that most of the previous eight opponents of the Titans (8-1, 2-1) couldn’t do. They reeled off large scoring runs, took advantage of Coal Ridge’s mistakes and were able to rebound even when the Titans reeled off some scoring runs of their own.
And afterward, Gunnison tried to downplay it, even with what could potentially be at stake.
“We knew that this could be a match for the league championship,” Gunnison coach Shana Benson said. “We prepared and always practice with pressure situations, so we feel like we were ready.
“I don’t like to say that we sent a message today, though,” she continued. “We like to keep things low key.”
Bailey Davis finished with a team-high seven kills, Paige Ryan had five service aces and Britni Allen added five kills and four blocks for the Titans, who fell behind 6-2 in the first set. But Coal Ridge clawed back into it, using an ace from Maggie Bell and a stuff-block from Davis to go up, 24-23. The teams exchanged the next two points, but a kill from Jordan Wallin, followed by kills from Sydney Archuleta and Albers, sealed Gunnison’s first-set win.
Gunnison set the pace in the second set, getting five kills from Albers in leading for the duration. In the third, however, a modest 6-2 run from Coal Ridge, capped by a stuff-block from Alicia Hampton, gave the Titans a 13-9 lead.
It disappeared quickly, though. Albers netted kills on three of the next five Gunnison points, and her four kills for the remainder of the match helped seal the Cowboys’ victory.
In all, Albers tallied 16 kills on 27 attacks — three of them coming on blocks — in limited playing time.
“She’s not much of a back-line player, and she knows it,” said a smiling Benson, who took Albers out when her spot in the rotation moved her off the net.
Coal Ridge tried to take advantage. Black said having Albers out gave Coal Ridge its best opportunity to put scoring runs together.
Those windows weren’t big enough, but the loss to Gunnison wasn’t big enough to take away the Titans’ goals for 2013.
“It’s not like this ends our season,” Black said. “We wanted to win a league title, and that’s probably gone now. But we still have a goal of hosting a regional. We can still reach that goal.”