Sailors headed to state

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— It was a moment one year in the making.

For the past 12 months, the seven seniors on the Steamboat Springs volleyball team have done everything to ensure that they were participants, not spectators, at the 2002 State Volleyball Tournament.

After sweeping through Longmont, Cheyenne Mountain and Greeley West, the Sailors (26-1) claimed a Region C title and a trip to the Denver Coliseum as one of eight teams in the Class 4A field.

"I'm thrilled," coach Wendy Hall said. "We've been working for this since last winter. I knew we were capable of sweeping. I feel confident in their game, and it's not just me. They carry the same confidence."

On Saturday afternoon, after defeating Longmont 15-3, 15-8, the Sailors were serenaded with chants of "State, State, State" from a group of their peers as the girls received roses and hugs from anyone willing to give one.

"I'm so excited," Katie Carter said.

At districts last weekend, Steamboat swept through a field consisting of familiar opponents from the western portion of the state. This weekend brought some unfamiliar Front Range schools to the Sailors' territory for regionals.

The results, however, were the same.

Steamboat opened round-robin play with a 15-4, 15-6 win over Cheyenne Mountain.

The next match pitted the Sailors against a short but scrappy Greeley West team. The Sailors aren't used to opponents digging their attacks, but the Spartans offered up arguably the best defense the Sailors have seen this season and quickly pulled ahead of Steamboat, 4-1, in the first game.

The Sailors slowly worked the game to a tie at 5-5 before taking the lead for good, winning convincingly, 15-7.

The second game saw Greeley West pull out to a 6-0 lead. The Sailors came back to tie the game, but this time they couldn't pull away from the Spartans, and Greeley West actually took the lead, 12-11, before the combination of Katie Carter, Bayli Stillwell and strong blocks pushed Steamboat to the 15-13 win.

Greeley West lost its next match as well, moving it and Cheyenne Mountain to 1-2 overall. Longmont was 1-1 before its match against the Sailors, meaning Steamboat, at 2-0, could still lose to Longmont and advance. The Sailors trip to state was earned before the final match.

Hall knew it, but she wasn't sure her team knew it, and she decided not to say anything.

"I debated whether to tell them, but they were so focused on playing," Hall said.

It didn't seem like the Sailors were sure they made it. There were no screams or hugs in the halls or letdowns on the court.

Steamboat tattooed Longmont's side of the net with volleyballs, winning 15-3 in the opening game. The Sailors took the second, 15-8.

On the day, Carter recorded a team-high 35 kills. Lizzie Sack had a team-high eight blocks, while Becca Gray racked up 72 assists.

Following the win over Longmont, a team that plays down to 4A during the postseason, Carter admitted Steamboat knew it had earned a trip to state before the Longmont match, but it wanted a regional title and a little more.

"We wanted to prove that they're playing 5A and we're playing 4A hiding in this hole in the mountains and they haven't got anything on us," Carter said.

Now, the Sailors have the chance to see what they've got on the rest of the best in 4A. The tournament field is set and it figures to be an exciting two days in Denver.

Two teams advanced from each region, and Greeley West will join Steamboat out of Region C, after the Spartans defeated Cheyenne Mountain in a single-game tiebreaker.

Lewis-Palmer and Pueblo West advanced from Region A, Brighton and Summit came out of Region B and Fort Morgan and Windsor advanced from Region D.

With a league title, district title and regional title on their resume, Steamboat's attention shifts back to practice. It has four days before the tournament opens on Friday. Match times are not yet known, since a state committee still must seed the teams.

"We're relieved because we're right where we wanted to be," Gray said.

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