Steamboat Springs had the momentum and a two-games-to-one lead. But there were the Eagle Valley volleyball players, laughing it up with one another and coach Rob Crawford.
The loose attitude seemed to work. The Devils won the next two games, stealing a 29-27, 19-25, 17-25, 25-20, 15-12 match from the Sailors in the regular season finale for both schools.
"It was great to see them play how they know they are capable of playing," Crawford said. "We had nothing to lose."
Eagle Valley's season is over after finishing near the bottom of the Western Slope League. Steamboat, on the other hand, will advance to next weekend's district tournament, but the Sailors will have to play better to have any hope of advancing past districts.
"Every match we've lost, we've played tight," Steamboat coach Wendy Hall said. The Sailors (8-10 overall, 6-8 in league play) were headed for a four-game victory Saturday after easily defeating the Devils in the second and third games.
Steamboat used a kill and two blocks, including a solo block, from senior setter Tara King to pull ahead, 19-14, in the second game. Eagle Valley got to within 22-18 on junior Michelle Parmenter's kill. The Sailors wisely called timeout and promptly closed out the game.
Steamboat was equally aggressive in the third game, jumping out to a 5-1 lead off another block from King, who finished the day with eight kills and seven blocks. Sophomore teammate Lisa Floyd helped King on the double block.
The Devils rallied back, and the teams remained close until Eagle Valley made a series of errors with Steamboat seniors Liz Johnson, Hestia Chase and King behind the service line.
The game ended on a net violation on Eagle Valley.
"Steamboat is a very good team and a very well-coached team," Crawford said. "It's so obvious. Their defense is phenomenal."
The Sailors used some of that defense to climb back into a fourth game that started slipping away. Tied at 8-8, Eagle Valley pulled ahead 16-11 on kills from five players and an ace from sophomore Ryanne Wilson.
Steamboat answered with two kills from senior Missy Chotvacs and a triple block from Floyd, Chotvacs and Chase to even things at 17.
Eagle Valley pulled away because Steamboat's hitters could not find the floor.
The same held true near the end of the fifth and deciding game. Up 12-10, the Sailors watched two Ashley Fahrenholtz attacks hit the floor and a Lyndee Cox serve whack the top of the net and fall to the floor.
The net was unkind to the Sailors most of the match, but the timing of the lucky Eagle Valley bounce tied the game at 12. Cox served out the match.
The Saturday loss was the final home match for Steam-boat seniors Chotvacs, Chase, Niki Dubord, Johnson and King.
"I'm heartbroken for those seniors, not winning their last match at home," Hall said.
Still, Steamboat Springs can find solace that its season is not over. Every team advancing to districts starts anew, which is welcome news to Johnson.
"We dwell on the past and everyone gets down on losses," said Johnson, who served 17 points and was 27-of-28 from the service line. "We'll be inspired to play."