The Steamboat Springs volleyball team faces its biggest challenge of the season today, when the team travels to Rifle to play the top-ranked Bears in an important league showdown.
Rifle, 7-1 and 12-3, owns the top spot in Western Slope 4A volleyball followed by Steamboat, which is No. 2.
The Sailors, 6-2 and 13-2, are coming off an impressive win over the Panthers of Middle Park on Monday. In that match, the team managed a come-from-behind victory in Granby. The Panthers are 5-2 and 13-3 in the Metropolitan 3A conference.
Jessica Johnson and Jessica Fritz led the Sailors in the match with 13 kills and 11 kills respectively. Maggie McElhinney also had an outstanding performance on Monday with 28 assists and an 18-18 serving effort.
Steamboat lost the first game to Middle Park 14-16 in an exciting finish. But the Sailors heated up thereafter, as they won the following games 15-7 and 15-9.
Steamboat, which fell to Palisade Oct. 7, lost its only other match of the year to Rifle on Sept. 5. The Bears are coming off a recent loss to the Bulldogs of Moffat County.
Moffat County defeated Rifle on Oct. 7 in three games.
The Sailors may have been excited to see the Bears drop a match over the weekend, but coach Wendy Hall put the the situation into perspective.
"My kids were sort of jumping up and down about that, but I told them that Rifle was jumping up and down because (Steamboat) lost to Palisade," Hall said. "The flip side of this is that we had a chance to win the league outright, and that chance is gone since we lost."
Even if the Sailors can knock off the Bears, the players will have to hope for another Rifle loss in order for Steamboat to sit alone at the top of the conference. The Sailors have two league losses while Rifle has one.
The Bears pack a dominant offensive attack, with outside hitter Lisa Samuelson leading the way.
"She's a player that has a multitude of offensive weapons," Hall said. "When she gets blocked, she goes to tip. If you take away the line on her, she'll go across. She's a very challenging player to defend."
Rifle, which beat Steamboat in the earlier match, still has the upper-hand on the Sailors if Steamboat wins in three games against the Bears Thursday. Rifle won the earlier match in two games, so the Sailors would have to boast a better performance to edge out the Bears in the case of a tie.
Hall says she just wants to win the match.
"We have to beat them now," Hall said. "Regardless, I just want to beat those guys on Thursday and prove to ourselves that we can play at that level with anyone."
Game time is set for 6 p.m. today at Rifle.
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