Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs volleyball coach Wendy Hall could fix physical problems, but the Sailors' biggest problem right now isn't technical.
"Until they believe they can win, we won't win these big, tight matches," Hall said.
Class 3A Middle Park defeated Class 4A Steamboat, 21-25, 25-23, 20-25, 27-25, 15-12, on Thursday because the Pantheras wanted it more.
"This was the most fight I've seen out of this team all year," Middle Park coach Roger Kuntz said. "But that's not atypical against Steamboat. This is the best nonleague opponent, whether it's 3A or 4A. Normally, they beat us here, and we win at home."
The Panthers are ranked No. 5 in Class 3A and have finished fifth at the state tournament each of the past two years. Middle Park turned to its experience in Thursday's win. Despite making 17 service errors, the Panthers pulled out the five-game win.
Steamboat (7-6 overall, 5-4 in league play) countered with 27 attacking errors -- a statistic that will prevent the Sailors from beating pretty much anybody.
"Every year, it's a good match," Hall said. "It went five last year. I can't remember it not going five."
But Kuntz was prepared to return to Granby earlier.
"Honestly, in Game 4, I thought we were done," he said.
The Sailors built as much as an 18-10 lead in what could have been the match's final game, but the Panthers crept back in. A net violation on the Sailors made it 19-16, and Hall called timeout.
Steamboat maintained its slim lead and had match point when Katy Gary found the back baseline for one of her team-high 13 kills. The Sailors had three chances to close it out, but the Panthers evened the game at 24 and went on to win, 27-25.
Middle Park took the final game behind four kills from Jeena Kinney, who finished with 18, and two aces from Brit Johnston. In the final game, the Sailors helped by making five mistakes, including two missed serves.
Steamboat is 0-3 in five-game matches this season.
"Every one of those we had a chance to win in the fourth game," Hall said. "And then the fifth games were lousy."
The Thursday match was nonleague, so it wasn't as important as the 5 p.m. match today against Palisade and the 1 p.m. match Saturday against Delta. Both count in the league standings. Palisade is one of those teams who defeated Steamboat in five games earlier this season.
"Maybe they were looking ahead to Palisade," Hall said. "We will find out tonight."
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org