The fifth set between Montrose and Fruita high school’s volleyball teams played out just as advertised: Two top teams atop the Southwestern League battling it out, trading blows. The scene played out just like the third act of “Rocky II.”
And Montrose, just like the film’s protagonist, never relented.
Tied at 17-17 in the fifth set, Montrose’s Kelsey Rocco delivered a momentum-changing kill to give the Indians an 18-17 lead. She was followed by another efficient Montrose possession, one that stumped the Wildcats and forced a return right back into the net.
Fans at Lloyd McMillan Gym erupted in cheers as Montrose’s Madisen Matoush, Taylor Foster, Rocco and other team members embraced, having knocked off Fruita three sets to two (24-26, 25-19, 21-25, 25-23, 19-17) in a five-set thriller that gave the Indians (13-3) a share of first place in the Southwestern League.
“I’m just so happy and proud for them,” Montrose head coach Shane Forrest said of her group. “They really, really worked hard tonight. We made some silly errors here and there, but for the most part, they did everything they possibly could and played their butts off.”
Forrest and the players understood the significance of Tuesday’s game, and how tough it would be. In September, Montrose was no threat to a Fruita team that did anything and everything they wanted in a 3-0 win (25-22, 25-12, 25-11). The Wildcats’ size was too tall of an order.
With that in mind — and the return of Foster, who wasn’t available in the previous matchup against Fruita — Montrose made the necessary adjustments.
“We knew what we were up against with the big block and the big hitters,” Forrest said. “We just tried to make some adjustments all week and work with the big block and be mindful of who was across the net from them and what shots would be available to them.”
The result? A season-high 21 kills for Rocco, who played a pivotal role during Montrose’s fifth set heroics. Matoush had 15 kills, with just four errors, and Foster added eight (which matched her season-high) on 17 attempts and one error — her hitting percentage was a ridiculous .450, also a season-high.
Defensively, the trio shined, with Rocco recording a team-high 24 digs and Matoush and Foster adding 22 each. The Wildcats also went after Taygan Rocco, who had 22 digs.
Foster and Matoush both had three blocks, and Kelsey and Brooke Williams added two each. Matoush, Rocco and Wiliams recorded solo blocks.
“We’re starting to come together more and play as a team instead of individually like we kind of did last year,” Foster said. “We’ve been really working on that and our energy was really high today.”
That energy was front and center in the second set with Jada Ray providing a spark during her turn as server. Her ball placement rallied Montrose back from a 2-6 deficit. moving the score to 7-6. Later in the set, a kill from Williams knotted the score at 16-16 and gave the Indians extra life as they cruised towards a 9-3 run to close out the set.
In the fourth set, with Fruita up 2-1, Montrose lost senior Jaedyn Key, who collided with Foster on the floor. Sophomore Jadyn Hall came in as her replacement.
Despite losing Key, the Indians never wavered, ending the set on a 6-2 run to force the fifth set tiebreaker.
With the score knotted at 13-13 in the fifth set, Montrose and Fruita combined for nine lead changes — neither team could finish the other with a winning blow until Montrose’s Rocco seized the moment.
“She continued what we worked on before and what she did against Eagle Valley,” Forrest said of Rocco’s play. “A couple times she went back to a low elbow and just reminded her to keep it up. She’s so savvy. Her vision of the court is so good that she knows where to put the ball — when she’s up in the air she can make some adjustments and put it away.”
Rocco’s season-best night comes after the senior recorded 15 kills in the Indians’ stunning comeback victory over Eagle Valley last Saturday. Montrose, down 2-0 and on the brink of their fourth loss, rallied from behind to win the game 3-2.
Rocco had been struggling with her spiking for the majority of September, recording single-digit kills in five of 10 games. Through the first two games in October, against top quality teams, she’s delivered.
“At the beginning of the season I kind of lost my swing,” Rocco said. “I got it back and it feels nice to know where to place the ball again and help out the team.”
Matoush was also electric during the comeback win, registering a team-high 22 kills. Foster added six blocks.
The Indians’ win over Fruita bumped them up to No. 5 in the 4A volleyball RPI and injected drama into the race for the SWL crown.
Sharing identical records (13-3 and 6-1 in the SWL), Montrose and Fruita both have a shot to win the SWL. Both programs have one league game left — against Durango.
The Wildcats are scheduled to play the Demons Oct. 22, and Montrose will play them Oct. 23.
“We want our senior season to end the best way it can and being tied for first in the SWL is really meaningful to us,” Rocco said. “We’re really going to show that we want it against Durango.”
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press