At this point in the season opponents don't care that the Steamboat Springs volleyball team went through the league season undefeated and compiled an impressive 18-1 overall regular season record.
It's the postseason and everyone is back on equal ground.
"I think for sure people feel like we're maybe the better team and sometimes that gives you a mental edge," Sailors coach Wendy Hall said. "At tournament time everyone starts 0-0. Everything we've done in league is not going to help us in the tournament. It's not like you have an easy ride into the championship."
To get into the championship game Steamboat will likely have to defeat Glenwood Springs for the third time this season or hand Montezuma-Cortez its third loss of the year in the semifinals.
The Demons finished right behind the Sailors in the Western Slope and open Friday's District tournament in Craig as the No. 3 seed behind Steamboat (No. 1) and Cortez (No. 2).
The Panthers also went undefeated in their league, matched up against four 5A schools due to geographic reasons. Both Cortez and Montrose will drop down to 4A now that the postseason is underway.
To make it to the semifinals, the Sailors must not lose focus in pool play. Steamboat is pooled with Palisade (No. 5), Montrose (No. 4) and the No. 8 seed either Delta or Rifle. The Sailors are 7-0 against all four schools this season.
"Montrose coming in makes it a little tougher pool," Hall said. "I know they didn't do well in league, but we've played them and they looked better than many of the teams we've played this year."
Steamboat opens pool play Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Moffat County High School in Craig. The opponent will either be Rifle or Delta the cellar dwellers in the Western Slope standings pending their pigtail match for the final district seed.
The Sailors will follow that match with a contest against Montrose at approximately 7:30 pm. at the Moffat County Middle School gym.
Steamboat concludes pool play Saturday against Palisade at 10:30 a.m. at the high school. The two semifinal contests are at 1:00 and 2:15 p.m. at the high school, and the championship match is scheduled to begin around 5 p.m.
Hall was a little late to practice on Monday due to league meetings, but upon her return attention shifted immediately to the task at hand.
"I started talking about the tournament," Hall said. "You could feel the atmosphere change. We have to make sure we practice different this year. The teams that will advance are the ones that think they still need to improve. Even though the steps are smaller this year, we can still get better."
Over the course of the postseason, the Sailors' level of competition will stiffen. The level of play in the upcoming two-day district tournament will increase match to match. To ensure her team is ready, Hall said the girls are sharpening areas of their game that really haven't been tested so far this year.
"We'll end up playing more defense, and I kind of feel we have to get our back row ready to attack," Hall said.
Improved net play will also be needed, Hall said, both by her blockers and her attackers hitting through opposing blocks.
The Sailors' five hitters haven't really been stuffed at net. Glenwood and Middle Park the team Steamboat lost to have been the only squads to challenge the Sailors' five hitters at net with some success.
"We're trying to put a big block in front of our kids in practice," Hall said. "If we can work against a block in practice we'll know we'll handle it in a match."
One other aspect of Steamboat's game that must remain strong is its mental approach, Hall said. Over the past month, the Sailors have been playing at a level Hall has never seen from these seniors. They simply don't allow teams an inch to breathe.
Hall said teams, no matter the talent, often elevate play in the postseason. Steamboat must increase its level along with the rest to maintain the edge. If an opponent senses uncertainty and nervousness, the door is open to an upset.
And the margin for error is smaller this year than in the past. Two teams are all the Sailors' district can send to the upcoming Regional tournament. Last year, three were able to advance, meaning at least one team, if not more, among Steamboat, Cortez and Glenwood teams all worthy of a shot at state will be eliminated.
"We're going down to win the whole thing," Hall said. "We will take one game at a time."
To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org