Lady Bulldogs win over Lady Beavers, 15-13, in first round of volleyball playoffs
By Ben Lasseter
Gunnison—The Gunnison Valley volleyball team kicked off the 2020 playoffs with a win over the Beaver Beavers at home on Saturday morning.
The match brought a sizable Gunnison crowd. Loud cheers rang throughout the game filled with highlight plays, and the large student section fans stayed on their feet through five sets.
The game came after a first-round bye the Bulldogs earned with its 14-8 overall and 7-3 regional records. Coach Shanell Knudsen said being the seventh seed out of 21 teams gives them a challenging path to the state championship.
“We are definitely in a tough spot in our bracket,” she said. “As long as we show up and play our best game, we should be okay.”
And show up they did in the second round.
After junior Hadlee McDonald got things started by singing the national anthem and serving the first point, junior hitter Kennedi Knudsen’s dominating presence at the net set the tone early for the Bulldogs. She served a four-point streak to achieve an 11-4 lead, by which time she already had four powerful kills. She remained perfect over 20 serve attempts and had two aces in the game.
Gunnison staved off a late Beaver run to take the first set 25-22. The second set went back-and-forth, but Gunnison kept control and took it 25-23, as well as the 2-0 set lead.
Key to Gunnison’s success in the first two sets was their attacking strength, but the third set brought miscues. Beaver capitalized on these by winning points with fundamental play. They defended, passed and attacked well, led by senior Sadie Bradshaw, and won the third set commandingly, 25-17.
After the third set, some Gunnison players were visibly frustrated, but they fought hard in the fourth set. Nonetheless, Beaver was still better. After the set came to a 20-20 tie, the Beavers pulled away and won 25-22.
Like in the first set, Gunnison Valley won the fifth set by taking an early lead and defending it. Beaver threatened until the very end, even tying the set 13-13, but the Bulldogs went on to win 15-13 and advance to the third round of the playoffs.
Consistent with the regular season, juniors led the Bulldogs to Saturday’s victory. Knudsen, the junior outside hitter, had 29 kills in the match. Aubrey Burrell had 38 assists and 16 digs. Hadlee McDonald had eight kills.
Along with these three, Raven Pickett and Chelsi Helms make a group of five juniors that Coach Knudsen has coached since their elementary years.
“They just have formed a bond on the court,” the coach said. “They get in sync with each other, and when that happens, they are unstoppable.” Coach Knudsen said the team would rely especially on these players for the rest of the playoffs.
On Thursday, the Bulldogs will face Enterprise. The winner of that match will advance to the semifinals, and the loser will play in the fifth-and-sixth-place consolation game.
“It’s gonna be a tough game,” Coach Knudsen said.
Enterprise defeated Gunnison Valley earlier this year. Coach Knudsen believes the team can give them a stronger showing this time around than the first match, which came amid off-court issues that did not allow the Bulldogs a full week of practice leading up to it.
The third-round match will take place Thursday at 7 p.m. in Richfield.