It's showtime

Steamboat faces No. 7 seed Windsor in opening round of state tourney

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— Casey King, volleyball coach at Pueblo West, knows exactly what to do with this year's state tournament seeds.

"I think you could throw them out the window," he said.

King is not alone in his thoughts. Coaches and state officials alike believe the 2002 field is one of the toughest in recent memory. One year ago both Alamosa and Mullen made the state tournament with eight losses, and Mullen was a four seed. This year Greeley West, at 20-7, has the most losses and is the eight seed. Two of those defeats, however, came at regionals just last weekend in Steamboat Springs.

One has to look no further than Pueblo West to understand the excitement surrounding this year's tournament. Pueblo West went into regionals undefeated. It lost to Lewis-Palmer on Nov. 2, dropped to 25-1 overall and fell from the top-ranked team in Colorado Class 4A to a No. 5 seed at the state tournament with an opening match against No. 4 Fort Morgan.

"You have to beat the best to be the best," King said. "There are no bad teams there. Every game will be great. You are going to see some high-quality volleyball."

That's why Judy Barnett started having dreams earlier this week. Before taking her current job at the Colorado High School Activities Association, Barnett served as the volleyball coach at Manitou Springs for 20 years, winning a state title in 1992. She loves her job but admits this time of year causes her some uneasiness at night.

"I had dreams a couple nights ago about when I coached," Barnett said. "All those good memories come back. When I miss coaching the most is during the state tournament. I love to see as much as I possibly can now. Rarely do I get to watch a complete game, let alone a match, but I love my job. I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world."

Barnett, however, is interested in how Steamboat fares this year. She knows Sailors coach Wendy Hall from previous matchups between Manitou Springs and Steamboat.

Barnett said she isn't surprised the Sailors made it to the Denver Coliseum with a 26-1 record.

"For Steamboat to get a No. 2 seed, my hats go off to the seeding committee," Barnett said. "They didn't write someone off because of location. Steamboat has been a strong force."

But the teams with the largest targets are No. 1 seed Brighton and No. 4 seed Lewis-Palmer, the defending state champions.

Coach Susan Odenbaugh, in her first year after replacing long-time coach Don Lash, said many expected Lewis-Palmer to use 2002 as a rebuilding year. The Rangers had other plans.

"I don't know if there's a lot of pressure to come in and win state," Odenbaugh said. "This year we only have two girls with varsity experience, and I have a freshmen setter. Our goal was to get to state. I think we're thankful we're going. It's kind of an Elite Eight."

Unlike the NCAA Basketball Tournament's quarterfinals to which Odenbaugh referenced, the opening rounds at the state volleyball tournament are pool play, not single elimination. The top two teams from each pool will advance to Saturday's semifinal matches. The winners of those will meet in the state final scheduled for 4:45 p.m.

All five classes will be playing simultaneously on the Coliseum floor during pool and semifinal play today and early Saturday. All five classes will play on one court during the finals. Matches on Friday and Saturday will start at 8 a.m., and the subsequent matches will follow the one before.

Steamboat opens against No. 7 seed Windsor (22-5) at approximately 9 a.m.

No. 1 Brighton and No. 8 Greeley West will kick-off the 4A portion of the tournament.

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