Soroco tops Hayden in season finale

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— It might have been the last game of the last match of the season, but the Soroco Rams and Hayden Tigers fought until the bitter end for third place at the 2A Western Slope volleyball tournament.

Even though the Rams and Tigers fell short of making it out of Saturday's district tournament to continue on to regional play, that didn't stop either team from battling to a 17-15 finish during a three-game match.

After losing twice to Hayden during the regular season, Soroco, coming in as the sixth-seeded team, pulled ahead in the final game to capture the third-place finish.

"We're a little disappointed; we might have been in regionals," Rams coach Amy Pankonin said. "Then you compare our improvement. We were ranked at the bottom of the league and pulled ourselves past other teams ahead of us to get to third."

North Park, which had not lost a league match all season, took first place at the district tournament in Eagle Valley. The team will be joined by Grand Valley, which placed second in the tournament, when it travels to Palisade for the regional tournament this weekend.

Starting off in pigtail matches, both Hayden and Soroco came into the tournament under pressure knowing they had to win their first contests to continue on to pool play against Grand Valley and North Park.

For Hayden, that meant having to beat West Grand, a team it had lost to three times in the regular season. But the Tigers came out strong Saturday as they took the match in two games of 15-5, 15-11.

"They are a tough team," Tigers coach Kipp Rillos said. "We really love to beat those (West Grand) teams."

Soroco got its first win from Plateau Valley, which it had beaten in two games (15-7, 15-11). But it did not fare quite as well in pool play as it came out strong against Grand Valley, winning the first game 15-5, then dropping the next two in games of 15-8, 15-2.

The Rams continued on to the next round of pool play where they met the Wildcats, who beat them in a decisive 15-5, 15-3 match.

"(After Grand Valley) we were so disappointed, we weren't able to play the next game and lost it," Pankonin said.

The Rams were able to regroup to beat the Tigers (3-15, 15-9, 17-5) in the final match of the tournament. Hayden was also handed defeats by North Park (15-12, 15-5) and Grand Valley (15-3, 15-6).

"I don't think it was unreasonable to beat North Park or Grand Valley, but we got to walk out of there feeling pretty good," Rillos said.

The Tigers, who finished the season 4-10, will graduate two seniors and will return six starters next year. The seniors are key players Kristen Brown one of the team's top hitters and blockers and Megan Klein, whom Rillos called one of the team's hardest-working players.

"I am looking forward, things are looking good. I'm very optimistic about next year," Rillos said.

Ending with a 9-12 record, the Rams will lose five seniors, three of whom were starters. Among them is Sarah Jo Linden, who led the team with 142 kills and 42 blocks for the season.

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