Outside hitters Kristyn Bradbury and Katie Mills are going to get a majority of the sets, the kills and the attention, but as the Steamboat Springs volleyball team prepares to face league opponents a second time, middle blockers Hestia Chase and Erin Gleason will become even more important.
On Saturday, the pair of first-year varsity players proved they will be able to handle the load; Steamboat had a three-game win against league opponent Delta and a four-game win against nonleague foe Fruita-Monument.
Steamboat defeated Delta, 25-10, 25-18, 25-11, and beat Fruita, 25-22, 20-25, 25-21, 25-18.
Chase and Gleason had a combined 12 kills in the two matches, but the pair, a junior and sophomore, respectively, had few errors and were imposing presences at the net on the block.
"We feel more confident in ourselves," Gleason said. "I don't feel nervous to make mistakes."
Gleason said she was nervous in the first matches of the year because she didn't want to let her teammates down. When she realized her teammates were going to be supportive, she began to loosen up on the court.
"I feel like they are my best friends," she said.
Gleason and Chase played key roles in Steamboat's victory against Fruita. In the Delta match, Chase was a perfect 19-of-19 from the service line.
"The middles came through (Saturday night)," Hall said. "That will make us that much better of a team."
The Sailors also will improve if they can cut down on hitting mistakes, which they continue to do. Between the Fruita and Delta matches, Mills had 48 kills and less than 20 errors. Bradbury had 15 kills and few mistakes. The senior also was instrumental in the success of Steamboat's offense in both matches, passing to near perfection.
In the Fruita match, of the 35 passes Bradbury received, 29 were perfect. That means setter Tara King barely moved to set up the play, which translated into the high success rate the attackers enjoyed.
Hall seemed more pleased with that statistic than anything else Saturday, considering the Wildcats were one of the better teams the Sailors have faced this season.
"Two wins is big," Hall said of the Steamboat sweep. "We needed to taste that side of things. I thought Fruita was a nice team to get a win against. They weren't the best blocking team we've faced, but they were the best backcourt team we've seen."
Fruita's ability to dig everything kept it in the game. Junior Ali Tompkins led her team in digs (25) and kills (14) on Saturday. Her teammate Kim Linford, a junior, had 21 digs. Junior Brittnee Vagneur had 12 kills.
Although Steamboat won the first game, Hall said she wasn't pleased with the energy level. The low intensity carried over into the second game, which the Sailors lost. Neither team played particularly well in the third until the game was nearly half over. With the score tied 14-14, King stepped behind the service line and helped give her team a lead it would never relinquish.
The final game wasn't ever close behind Mills' nine kills and the play of Gleason at the net.
"We came out, and it was like we wanted to be done now," Mills said. "Hestia and Erin played awesome."
In the matinee win against Delta, Steamboat sandwiched two well-played games between one shaky game to win in three.
Steamboat's varsity won the first game, easily, 25-10, and won the third game, 25-11, but the second game came down to better execution by the Sailors when it mattered most -- at the end.
Senior Amanda Farmer's ace gave the Panthers the lead at 16-15, but the combination of King at the net and from behind the service line lifted Steamboat back into the lead, 20-17.
The Panthers never got closer, as the Sailors closed out the match on two kills -- one from Gleason and the other from Bradbury -- and two Panthers' errors.
Mills had 23 kills to lead all attackers. King and Bradbury each had four kills. Chase had two kills. King also had 30 assists. She had 42 assists against Fruita. She also was 20-of-21 from the service line with six aces.
Steamboat's junior varsity defeated Delta, 25-17, 18-25, 15-6. Steamboat's freshmen won, 25-13, 29-31, 15-7. Steamboat's junior varsity also defeated Fruita, 25-13, 25-22. Fruita did not bring a freshman team to play Saturday.
Steamboat resumes league play with a 6:30 p.m. match against Moffat County on Tuesday in Craig. The freshmen will play at 4:30 p.m. The junior varsity plays at 5:30 p.m.