Nervous is one thing. What the members of the Steamboat Springs volleyball team were feeling moments before opening the season against Middle Park is another.
It appeared as if first-game jitters were going to get the best of Steamboat on Thursday.
"It was unbelievable," junior Kristyn Bradbury said. "We were all sitting in the locker room, and there was so much pressure because this was the team that beat last year's team."
The Sailors defeated the Panthers 25-22, 25-11, 25-18, avenging last year's loss to Middle Park, which was Steamboat's lone regular-season loss last season.
"This was a huge win," Bradbury said.
While Panthers coach Roger Kuntz credited Steamboat for playing a great match, he wasn't pleased with anything his team did Thursday night. After opening the season 4-1 at a tournament in Pueblo, the Panthers made too many hitting, blocking and service errors against the Sailors, particularly in the second game, to have a chance to win, he said.
The home team came out "tight as a drum," Hall said, committing a high number of hitting errors early and falling behind by as many as six points midway through the first game. However, a kill by Sailor Hannah Gary, followed by a Panther hitting error, prompted Kuntz to call a timeout with the score 21-17 in favor of his team.
During the break, Hall took a moment to tell her blockers they were too slow to the net. It proved to be the coaching tip of the evening.
Steamboat emerged from the timeout and put up its first successful block two plays later, pulling to within 19-21 before stringing together six of the next seven points to win the game.
With senior Shelley Dunlop at the service line, the Sailors cruised to a 9-0 lead in the second game, which proved to be far more than the Panthers could overcome. Steamboat's combination of Gary, Bradbury and Stacy Cavanagh at net, and a defense that never stopped, helped the Sailors pull away to win by 11.
Steamboat and Middle Park stayed even through the first 10 points of the third game, before a series of Panthers errors and Sailors kills gave Steamboat the cushion it needed to win the match.
From the service line, Steamboat went 70-of-71, which was crucial under the new rally scoring rules. In rally scoring, a bad serve costs a team the ball and gives the opponent the serve and a point.
Serving and defense may prove to be the trademark of the 2003 Steamboat team. While the Sailors have a handful of skilled hitters this year, they are not towering or overpowering compared with the 6-foot-plus attackers of 2002.
But Kuntz played both squads and believes the 2003 team possesses the ability and speed to play better team defense overall.
"It's something I knew we had to be great at," Hall said of her team's defense.
In Thursday's match, Gary and Cavanagh each had a team high of 10 kills, and Bradbury had nine. Dunlop pitched in with four, while Katie Liefer had one kill. Setter Brynn Gotchey had 34 assists.
Steamboat's freshmen and junior varsity teams defeated Middle Park Thursday as well.
The early season test for the varsity team continues Saturday at the 16-team Fort Morgan Tournament, where several of the state's best teams, including Platte Valley, Sterling and Valley, will be in the field.
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