Durango claims Sunset title, gives coaches one more trip to state

It’s probably a stretch to call the Durango girls volleyball team a Cinderella. But the Trailblazers have at least become the feel-good story of the playoffs thus far.

Senior standout Hayley Spelman finished with 40 kills and the Trailblazers ensured outgoing coaches Kelly O’Quinn and Bob Kelly one more trip to the state tournament as they knocked off Bishop Gorman 25-18, 21-25, 16-25, 25-20, 15-4 in the Sunset Region championship Friday at Centennial.

Durango (25-11), the defending state runner-up and No. 2 seed from the Southeast, will meet the loser of the Bishop Manogue-Reno match in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Damonte Ranch.

“What a place to end it, at state,” O’Quinn said. “I guess I can’t say we’re not good anymore.”

O’Quinn and Kelly, who started at Durango when the school opened in 1993 and announced they will step down after the boys volleyball season in the spring, were honored in an emotional ceremony before the match. It appeared their careers would end when Southeast No. 1 Gorman (28-8) won the second and third games, but that’s when Spelman, a Stanford recruit, took over.

“After the third game, I thought that was it,” said O’Quinn, whose team lost all three meetings with the Gaels this season. “Hayley was determined to take her team with her and win this.”

After Durango used a 9-2 spurt midway through the fourth game to tie the match, Spelman had 10 kills and two aces in the fifth.

Gorman found itself in a tough rotation with 6-foot-4-inch middle blocker Dannielle Diamant on the bench and Spelman took advantage with three kills on the next four points to put the Southeast No. 2 Trailblazers up 8-4.

Spelman then served up an ace to make it 9-4 and powered another kill off a triple block from the Gaels.

“In the fourth game we just shut down mentally, I thought, and stopped playing,” Gorman coach Ed Van Meetren said. “We knew what to expect from her. She stepped up and we just didn’t execute.”

Another ace from Spelman, who had the final 11 service points, made it 12-4. After a hitting error from the Gaels, Spelman notched two straight kills, including a cross-court blast on the final point.

“If this was (O’Quinn and Kelly’s) last match I didn’t want to have any regrets, and I know all the girls felt the same way,” Spelman said. “I couldn’t have done anything without my teammates. They picked up tips. They stayed on top of it. The team played incredibly awesome.”

Durango rode its emotion to a Game 1 win only to see the Gaels rally behind Diamant, who finished with 19 kills. She had five kills as part of an 8-1 run in the second game and her kill put Gorman on top 11-5 in Game 3. Gorman’s lead grew to as big as 20-12 before the Gaels scored the final four points to take the game.

“I thought this was a great chance for us to win (the region title) this year,” Van Meetren said. “It’s tough to beat anybody four times.”

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