When it was tied at 21-all in the final set between Mercy of Kentucky and Cathedral Catholic of California, it wasn’t the Durango Fall Classic championship match anyone envisioned last weekend in Las Vegas.
Yet, Maddie Endsley’s tip winner concluded a tightly fought contest and delivered Cathedral Catholic the trophy, as the Dons downed Mercy 20-25, 25-18, 25-23 to cap an improbable two days. It was the first Durango title for Cathedral Catholic, which entered the weekend having lost twice to Torrey Pines and once to Redondo Union.
“It just wasn’t clicking,” Cathedral Catholic coach Juliana Evens said of the weeks leading up to Durango. “We knew we were a better team than that. If we are going to lose, let’s lose playing well. We put a lot of focus on playing better volleyball. Every time we stepped on the court it was just business.”
Cathedral Catholic didn’t drop a set on its way to the championship showdown against Mercy. The run featured sweeping Assumption of Kentucky in the quarterfinals before taking out Marin Catholic of California in the semifinals. It was Marin Catholic’s first loss.
“Assumption is like playing this club team,” Evens said. “Lindsey (Miller) was on a mission. She didn’t play last year at Durango. Marin has this girl (Kari Geissberger) who hits from the back row like she’s hitting from the front row. We were serving really well and we were taking people out. The energy was crazy. It was a different team than the first games of nonleague.”
Mercy, having lost to Assumption back in Kentucky two weeks ago, wasn’t among the favorites as play kicked off Friday afternoon. Yet, like Cathedral Catholic, Mercy reached the final without dropping a set. Among the victories were defeating California schools Vista Murrieta in the quarterfinals and Marymount in the semifinals.
“They were playing like they weren’t going to lose,” Mercy coach Matt Thomerson said. “We didn’t let teams breathe a whole lot.”
After winning the first set against Cathedral Catholic, Thomerson told his team to stay humble and keep working hard. Mercy did, but Cathedral Catholic adjusted after losing its first set of the tournament.
“We were worried about losing and we just needed to go back to doing our part,” Evens said. “The third game was back and forth. Mercy can dig balls like you can’t believe. Their setter (Elena Scott) was making our block look bad. When you are getting dug you want to hit harder so we needed to start throwing some tip shots and roll shots in here and there. They were expecting heavy balls. Maddie put the ball away on match point with a tip. She comes in like she’s going to crush the ball and tips it over the block and it barely falls. Maddie, the girl who never tips, tips to win it.”
The passing struggles that plagued Cathedral Catholic earlier in the season disappeared in the desert. Evens said the Dons passed a 2.0 on the weekend, which allowed for Miller to get going in the middle. She wound up being named tournament MVP. If Cathedral Catholic can keep it going moving forward, the Dons could very well end up having their say when it comes to the California Open Division state championship.
Cathedral Catholic has another challenge upcoming when the Dons travel to the Nike TOC in Phoenix next weekend.
“Our focus, we were really into it,” Evens said. “Going forward, can we make that our season? It was a very positive thing the timing of this. We haven’t played well. This is a good confidence boost. Now, we need to do it every day in practice. Durango is like the Olympics of high school volleyball. We have to be mentally tough and we can’t take anything for granted. We have the personnel that if we keep that mindset we can be a really good team.”
Mercy has spent the early season adjusting to a new look but like Cathedral Catholic is hoping its performance at Durango could lead to bigger things down the road. The Jaguars last captured the Kentucky state title in 2014. Mercy already lost a close four-set decision to Assumption and owns a victory over Sacred Heart as well.
The tests keep on coming for Mercy, which has a doubleheader on Saturday against nationally-ranked foes in Ursuline Academy and Mount Notre Dame, both from Ohio.
“Our kids weren’t sure what to expect (at Durango),” Thomerson said. “We have the potential to be a great team. We’ve seen signs of that, just not consistently. I think the girls are getting comfortable playing with each other and knowing where each other is going to be instead of guessing. We put it together on day one and we knew day two was going to be tougher.
“We came across Marymount and that’s a solid team. Getting to the final was an awesome accomplishment. The third set was awesome volleyball all the way around. I’m proud of the kids. They fought hard. They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them in terms of practice.”
The Durango Fall Classic has long been known as the Who’s Who of high school volleyball, as the best nationally trek to attempt to capture the prestigious championship. That didn’t change this go-round, but the question of who is here or not had to be asked.
That’s because some of the top teams in the country arrived without their full roster available. Assumption, winners of the past two events and four of the last five, was missing senior middle Rylee Rader. Senior outside Anna DeBeer was also nursing an injury and only gave it a go against Cathedral Catholic. Short-handed, Assumption fell to the Dons in two, 25-16, 25-14.
Marymount, which entered the two-day tournament undefeated, has been without senior outside Amara Aimufua for the season but was hurt more when sophomore right side Kerry Keefe got injured Saturday. Marymount still managed to beat Mater Dei without Keefe and then the Sailors ended the weekend by beating Marin Catholic for third place.
“There were moments we played really well,” Marymount coach Cari Klein said. “I thought the teams we played were good. We didn’t play Cathedral Catholic but they looked awesome watching on. Mercy’s serving and passing was spot on. I thought Marin was a good team. That was a hard game for us.”
Redondo Union — which had spent the early part of the season without junior setter Kami Miner as she played with the USA Youth National Team — was without both Miner and senior libero/setter/OH Nalani Iosia for the weekend, as well as junior libero/DS/OH Ava Kirunchyk. Redondo Union couldn’t overcome their absences, falling on day one to James Logan of California and missing out on the top 16. Redondo Union’s weekend ended with a loss to Leon of Florida.
The good news for Redondo though is the Sea Hawks faced Marymount this past Tuesday. Marymount had Keefe back but Redondo had Miner and Iosia for the first time this season and swept 25-21, 25-23, 25-19.
“It was the first day all summer/fall that we had our entire team at a match or practice,” Redondo Union coach Tommy Chaffins said. “For a wide variety of reasons, we just haven’t had all of our players together. Luckily, we have tremendous depth and flexibility, but even that was challenged at Durango. Our top three liberos were out, which made for more challenges. Anyway, we are looking forward to having our team together.
“Playing different lineups will help us come playoff time. If we suffer injuries or if someone is having an off-night, multiple players will have played in big matches and can draw on that experience.”
What schools like Redondo Union, Marymount, Cathedral Catholic, as well as Mater Dei, Torrey Pines, Vista Murrieta and Sierra Canyon, share is that all are from Southern California. One is likely to represent the region in the Open Division state final.
On the other hand, fourth-place finisher Marin Catholic hails from Northern California and so far seems to be the leading candidate to represent that region in the Open Division state final. The Wildcats opened their schedule by beating Sacred Heart Cathedral and showed up at Durango unbeaten. Marin Catholic made it to the semifinals and lost to Cathedral Catholic, 25-21, 25-19, before suffering defeat for the first time.
Even with the stellar showing, Marin coach Jake Spain isn’t going to get ahead of himself when it comes to looking ahead.
“It’s high school ball,” he said. “You take it day-by-day and hope for a great experience for the girls. Every match, regardless of who we are playing, you are hoping we are getting better at something. Durango is such a great opportunity to compete against some of the best teams in the country and not just play against teams in our little bubble. Getting to play these better teams exposes stuff you need to get better at.”
Geissberger, a 6-4 outside, and middle Olivia Cooper are just one of three seniors on the roster. Setter Leah LaBoy is one of four sophomores that start for the Wildcats.
“For high school volleyball, it doesn’t get much better (than Durango),” Spain said. “You can look around and see the storied histories and the talent in the gym. The seniors I was definitely impressed with, but I was also really impressed by the poise the younger players showed.”
It was expected that Vista Murrieta would make the top 16 a year ago, not in 2019. Last fall, the Broncos started five Division 1 commits but were upset on day one by Rancho Cucamonga and failed to make it to day two at Durango. This year, Vista Murrieta was seeded last in pool 15.
Sure enough, the Broncos pulled off the upsets on the first day to move on but didn’t stop there. Playing against Torrey Pines in the challenge match Saturday morning, the Broncos kept it going with another one, winning in three 20-25, 25-20, 25-22. Mercy ended Vista Murrieta’s bid in the quarterfinals, sweeping 25-20, 25-12.
Vista Murrieta coach Ed Taitano said he didn’t argue with the seed considering the slow start his squad had to its season. The Broncos lost to Marymount, Orange Lutheran and Great Oak in their first three outings and also picked up another loss against Chaparral in league play. However, on day one in Vegas, Vista Murrieta took out Lone Peak of Utah, Sacred Heart Cathedral of California and Bishop Manogue of Nevada.
While it’s been a reworked roster, the pairing of senior setter Molly Wilson with outsides Reka Monteleone and Claire Little, who is a freshman, is coming along.
“Claire is legit,” Taitano said. “She can pass. She can hit. She can play all six rotations. Reka is explosive and has a heavy arm. Both outsides play defense and pass.”
The lone member of the all-tournament team though proved to be senior libero Chloe Scheer.
“She was picking up balls left and right and helping the offense convert in transition,” Taitano said.
Vista Murrieta is another team headed to the Nike TOC next weekend.
“We are excited for it,” Taitano said. “We know we caught some teams off guard.”
Some more notes as we wrap up Durango.
Sierra Canyon, which is 27-2, finished in sixth place. The Trailblazers lost a one-game playoff against Mater Dei to finish in sixth. But their only two real match losses have come against Torrey Pines earlier and then Marin Catholic in Vegas. Sierra Canyon is a team that lost some firepower from last year but does have senior Jaylen Jordan back on the outside along with sophomore setter Taylor Simpson. Sierra Canyon did pick up a victory over short-handed Assumption at Durango and the Trailblazers could be able to pull off an upset or two come the CIF Southern Section playoffs, where they could face Mater Dei, Redondo Union or Marymount. …
Mater Dei beat Assumption before the Louisville Invitational Volleyball Tournament two weekends earlier and then finished third in the event. It figured Mater Dei was positioned to do well at Durango, especially considering other teams were without key players. Yet, Marymount held back the Monarchs in three 21-25, 28-26, 25-21, in the quarterfinals when Mater Dei couldn’t capitalize on its match point in game two. Mater Dei rounds out its tournament schedule next weekend at the Nike TOC. …
Torrey Pines was VolleyballMag.com’s pick to win it all but was knocked out in the challenge round by Vista Murrieta. The Falcons downed Redondo Union two weeks ago but was upset by La Costa Canyon days later. Torrey Pines faced LCC in rematch Wednesday night. Torrey Pines finished out Durango winning the silver division, topping Kamehameha of Hawaii. …
As usual, Xavier Prep of Arizona worked its way into the competition on the second day of Durango. However, the Gators were stopped short in challenge play by Marin Catholic and lost in three 25-22, 19-25, 25-22. …
As for James Logan, the school that upset Redondo Union on day one, it fell to Sierra Canyon 25-21, 25-19, in morning challenge play. …
Laguna Beach of California, with rising sophomore Sophie Reavis, had an entertaining first day. The Breakers were seeded No. 2 in pool 11 but upset Leon of Florida to shake things up. However, Laguna Beach then lost to Palo Verde of Nevada in a surprise result to force a playoff. Laguna Beach survived the playoff over Leon to make the top 16. The Breakers lost to Marymount 25-23, 25-21, in challenge play Saturday morning. …
Meanwhile, of the four Florida schools — also counting Oviedo, Venice and Dr. Phillips — it was Leon placing the highest at 17th. Oviedo was next highest, tying for 23rd. …
There’s a lot to love about Durango and one of those things is the potential state champions the tournament can produce. It’s very likely the California Open Division state champ is going to have attended Durango. The same goes for the Kentucky state champ, as Assumption and Mercy are the leading candidates in that state. The same goes for Hawai’i, as Kamehameha or ‘Iolani will almost assuredly take home the Division 1 crown there. In Utah, both Lone Peak and Pleasant Grove are in the hunt in that state. Xavier Prep is going to be in the mix in Arizona, while Leon the same in its division in Florida. Bonneville is going to contend in its respective division in the Idaho state playoffs. And Boulder City figures to be a contender in the Nevada state playoffs. That says a lot about the tournament right there.