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Washington leads Doherty past L-P in matchup of volleyball powers
MONUMENT • Holy moly! Or, more to the point, Haleigh moly!
Doherty junior transfer Haleigh Washington played for just the second time in the Pikes Peak region and put on a dazzling exhibition of power in the Spartans’ 21-25, 25-16, 25-20, 28-26 victory at Lewis-Palmer in a match that featured perhaps the state’s best 5A and 4A programs and couldn’t have gone much better for either side.
For Doherty (10-0), it was the first time the state’s top-ranked team — No. 16 in the nation according to MaxPreps — had been tested. And it responded with a victory.
Lewis-Palmer (8-3) took comfort in becoming the first team to win a game against Doherty this season, and the Rangers accomplished it in the final match before UCLA-bound 6-foot-6 transfer Claire Felix gains eligibility.
“I think you can take this as a moral victory for both sides,” Lewis-Palmer coach Susan Odenbaugh said. “This will be a confidence booster. I feel very good about the way the kids played.”
The competitive match was a side bonus to the Washington show.
Washington’s first hit in warmups elicited an audible gasp throughout the Rangers’ packed gym. And the buzz only grew as she pounded 17 kills, most of which came at nearly impossible angles.
“When you touch 10-(foot)-8, the angles are pretty crazy she can get at,” said Doherty coach Tara Hittle, a former state player of the year with the Spartans who feeds Washington the ball in warmups.
“I always kind of cringe because I don’t want to get hit in the head.”
Lewis-Palmer’s reaction said it all as the team and crowd broke out in wild celebration the one time they blocked one of Washington’s straight-down blasts. Every other time she was able to wind up it resulted in a point for the Spartans.
“I hear it,” Washington said of the crowd’s reactions. “There are some times that I’ll bounce a ball and I’m like, ‘The crowd better explode, that was so good.’ But then I’m like, OK, what can I do to improve on the next one.”
“But yeah, sometimes I hear it,” added the junior, who has chosen Penn State. “It’s a nice confidence booster.”
She hardly does it alone, as lefty Gabby Simpson added 13 kills, Cierra Simpson contributed 12 and Kiara McKibben had 11.
It’s a lineup that breezed through a difficult tournament in Denver last weekend without allowing an opponent to score more than 20 in any game.
“We haven’t been pushed to that level,” Hittle said. “No one has taken a set off of us this season. It’s really good for us. Our girls needed to know what it’s like to lose a game and have to fight back. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s not easy.
“They did really well pulling together and finding solutions. Finding what works.”
Plenty was working for Lewis-Palmer as well.
The Rangers had struggled at the start of matches all season but obviously corrected that by taking the first game against the Spartans.
Alexa Smith led Lewis-Palmer with 16 kills and 17 digs in another all-around performance for the team that will get markedly better in a week when Felix joins the lineup.
Doherty also hopes to improve, and this first test of adversity should hasten that process.
“It’s cool to see how good we are now,” Washington said.
“And then to think, Oh my gosh, we’re only going to get better.”