Durango Classic brings out the best

Bob Kelly’s goal for the Durango Fall Classic girls volleyball tournament always has been the same.

“Volleyball is a sport that’s not seen at a high level by many people. It’s not on television a lot,” said Kelly, the tournament director and assistant coach for the Trailblazers. “For the kids in Vegas to see the game played this way is a huge awakening.

“We hope it inspires the kids to play like that because it’s phenomenal to watch these players.”

Those local players in attendance Saturday, not to mention everyone else at Durango, were treated to high-level action as Carlsbad (Calif.) La Costa Canyon downed Louisville (Ky.) Assumption, 25-18, 25-21, to capture the championship of the 32-team, two-day tournament.

La Costa Canyon entered the event ranked No. 1 in the Century Club National 100. The winner of each of the last three Classics has finished the season ranked No. 1 in the nation.

“Winning this is really exciting because we’ve come so far as a team,” 6-foot-2-inch La Costa Canyon outside hitter Katie Fuller said. “Being No. 1 in the country is good locally, but to come here and play teams from all over, it’s nice to prove ourselves and come out No. 1.”

Fuller, bound for Southern California, led the Mavericks in kills with 10, and standout junior setter Kendall Polan dished out 26 assists. Junior Natalie Hagglund added six kills and eight digs for La Costa Canyon, and Natalie Loos and Lydia Rudnick each chipped in with five kills.

Lakewood upset La Costa Canyon at home in the semifinals of the California Division I state playoffs in 2007 as the top seed.

“We’re so thrilled to prove ourselves,” Mavericks coach Pat McDougall said after capturing the Classic title for the first time. “This unit has never really performed to that level until today, so this was a big deal for us.”

Thirteenth-ranked Assumption, meanwhile, finished as runner-up for the third consecutive year after winning it all in 2005. Senior Whitney Craven and sophomore Jeni Houser led the Rockets in kills with six apiece.

“We love this tournament primarily because of the quality of competition,” said Assumption coach Ron Kordes, whose team slayed demons with a semifinal win over Mira Costa (Calif.) after losing to the four-time defending California Division II champion in the Classic final each of the past two seasons.

“If nothing else, we answered some questions,” Kordes said. “The girls come out with a boost of confidence.”

The Mavericks jumped to an early 8-2 advantage in Game 1 and were in control throughout. Back-to-back kills by Hagglund and Polan put La Costa Canyon on top 21-15, and the Rockets got as close as 22-18 before LCC closed it by scoring the final three points.

The second game was more of a see-saw affair as Assumption opened on a 7-3 spurt only to see the Mavericks rally. Hagglund’s tip tied the score at 8, and after the Rockets went ahead 12-11 on a kill by super sophomore Claire Gerwig, La Costa Canyon reeled off six straight points to take an 18-12 advantage.

Assumption responded with a 7-1 run to knot the score at 19, but once again the Mavericks were too tough down the stretch. Fittingly, Polan closed the match with an ace.

“It’s nice because we’re all leaders and we’re all so energetic that even when we miss a few points we always come back and show who we are,” Fuller said.

La Costa Canyon advanced to the final by topping Archbishop Mitty (Calif.), 14-25, 25-20, 25-20, in a highly anticipated battle between the Century Club National 100 poll’s top two teams.

“This year’s field is unreal. Seven of the top eight seeds could have won it,” Kelly said. “I give all the credit for the success of this tournament to the loyalty of the teams that come year after year and play.”

Bishop Gorman won the competition bracket of the tournament, defeating Green Valley, 25-18, 25-14, in the final.

None of the seven Las Vegas teams in the event played in either the gold or silver brackets after the teams combined for just one victory — by Silverado — on Friday.

Silverado finished fifth and Palo Verde eighth in the bronze bracket.

Durango defeated Coronado, 25-18, 21-25, 25-13, for fifth place in the competition bracket. Foothill was eighth in the competition bracket.

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