Trailblazers overpower Tigers in state tournament

RENO -- The Durango Trailblazers simply had too much firepower for the Douglas Tigers to handle during their opening round Class 4A match at the NIAA/U.S. Bank State Volleyball Championships Thursday afternoon.

Durango used a well-rounded attack to sweep past Douglas in three straight games -- 15-7, 15-12, 15-12 -- to remain undefeated against Nevada opposition for the season and advance to the 4A state semifinals at Galena High School.

Durango (35-5) plays Galena in the semifinals today at 5 p.m.

Even though Douglas (15-5) saw its season end, coach Kira Brown was hardly disappointed with the team's performance.

"I'm really proud of my girls; they played hard," Brown said. "That's the biggest block we've seen all year and the best combined group of hitters. They're tall, they hit back row, middle, outside, all over. They're just very strong."

The Trailblazers are tall and talented, with four players on the roster listed at 6-foot and over. That includes 6-2 middle blocker Natalie Smart, who has verbally committed to sign with California, and 6-1 junior setter Amy Schlauder.

"Their setter is taller than our tallest player," Brown said.

The Tigers are a pretty fair team themselves, Durango coach Robert Kelly pointed out.

"I thought Douglas was a very good opponent," Kelly said. "I thought they passed the ball well and ran their offense. I felt as though the last two games both went down to the last point. I never felt comfortable until it was over."

Douglas jumped out to leads in both the second and third games. The Tigers led 6-0 in the second game before Durango answered with a 14-2 run to take charge. In the third game, they held leads of 5-1 and 11-6 before Durango came back again.

"We had our moments," Brown said. "We'd play well for a little bit, but then we'd make some mistakes and they would come back on us."

Douglas staged a little comeback of its own late in the second game. Down 14-8, the Tigers rallied back. Emily Stratton served a string of four straight points, including two aces, to cut the gap to 14-12 before Durango closed it out.

"You have to give Douglas credit," Kelly said. "After we went on our run, they rebounded very well after that. And then they came out and played very well at the start of the third game."

The Tigers led 12-10 in the third game after Amee Christian's cross-court shot found an opening. Kelsey Johnson and Smart combined on a block to tie the score at 12, then Johnson put the ball down against the Tigers' double team block as Durango took the lead for good.

Johnson, a 6-0 junior outside hitter, finished with 19 kills. Heather Bravo contributed eight kills, Schlauder had 28 assists and six kills, while middle blockers Smart and Rani Farmanali had four kills each.

"Rani had three key plays for us at the end of the third game, two kills and one other play where she managed to keep the ball alive against Emily (Haas) and pass it over to Kelsey," Kelly said. "She (Farmanali) plays well enough that is you concentrate too much on Natalie and Kelsey, she will remind you that we have a second middle."


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