Steamboat falls just short in district tournament

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— All sports seasons come to an end, but no team likes its season to end prematurely.

Although the Steamboat Springs High School volleyball team -- the No. 4 seed in the District 8 tournament -- was not expected to finish in the top two and advance to next weekend's regional tournament, the Sailors almost beat the odds to capture a regional berth.

They certainly played like they wanted and deserved it during most of Saturday's District 8 tournament.

The team's only spotty play came during the last part of the fourth game and during the fateful fifth game in its semifinal match against third-seeded Widefield.

The winner automatically advanced to regionals, along with Battle Mountain, which won the semifinal match against Pueblo Centennial.

Leading two games to one and ahead 12-9 in the fourth game, Steamboat was plagued by a string of four mistakes, including two service aces, that allowed Widefield to tie the game at 14.

The Sailors pulled ahead to take a 20-16 lead after a kill from senior Missy Chotvacs and two kills from senior Hestia Chase.

But Widefield got back in the game with two kills and a block to tie the game at 20. A Sailors' error and another kill from Chotvacs made it 21-21. A missed serve -- one of 15 Steamboat committed in the loss -- gave Widefield a lead it would not relinquish. Widefield won the game, 25-22.

The No. 3 seed carried the momentum into the fifth game and won easily, 15-4.

"Serves lost that match for us, sorry to say," Steamboat coach Wendy Hall said. "We missed way too many serves. Give Widefield credit. They stepped up and made some plays."

Widefield won the match, 25-21, 20-25, 20-25, 25-22, 15-4.

The shaky game-and-a-half was the only bad volleyball the Sailors played on an afternoon in which they clearly had upsets on their minds.

"I really thought it was our day," Hall said. "I was feeling so good after pool play."

Hall had good reason to feel that way.

Pool play

The Sailors, who entered the tournament 8-10 overall and 6-8 in league play, played some of their best volleyball of the season at the most opportune time.

"It' s about time," said senior Tara King, whose volleyball career will continue at Mesa State College next season.

Steamboat routed No. 6 seed Mesa Ridge, 25-9, 26-24, 25-10, in Saturday's pool play and hung with top-seed and host Battle Mountain before losing, 25-22, 25-19, 25-21.

The second-place finish in their pool gave the Sailors a berth in the semifinal round, in which they met Widefield.

Steamboat may have had a slight advantage heading into its match against Widefield because it easily defeated Mesa Ridge in three games and lost to Battle Mountain in three games. Widefield, on the other hand, had to play five games to get past No. 2 seed Pueblo Centennial.

End of an era

Steamboat's seniors -- Chotvacs, King, Chase, Liz Johnson and Niki Dubord -- played well in the district tournament. None was immune to mistakes, but the quintet stepped up at the right times. Chase had 27 kills in three matches Saturday. King, who had 41 assists in the final match, made 14 blocks.

Johnson, a defensive specialist, had a great day from the service line and was sharp on her passing. Dubord, who was inserted into the starting lineup midway through the season, was key in pool play with seven kills and seven blocks.

Chotvacs was steady from the service line, at the net and on defense.

Next season, the Sailors, who finished 9-12 overall, will bring back sophomore Katy Gary, who led all hitters with 31 kills. She had eight blocks in the final match. They also will bring back sophomore Lisa Floyd, who said she learned lessons about what it takes to be a varsity player this season.

"At the beginning, it was tough (playing with new people), but I realized we were a team, so it became a natural thing," she said. "We've got to work hard and come together as a team next season."

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