With four new players in the lineup and another at a new position, it wasn't surprising the Steamboat Springs volleyball team started slow.
But the Sailors put their age and experience aside Saturday to win an entertaining, season-opening match against Greeley Central, 19-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-19.
"I expected us to be a little tight," Steamboat coach Wendy Hall said. "That's an understatement. We were pretty anxious."
The senior-laded Wildcats took advantage of the Sailors' nerves -- and errors -- to win the first game easily.
"At the beginning, (Hall) said the simple stuff needs to be perfect," junior Lisa Floyd said.
The Sailors are always great servers, and that part of their game didn't disappoint. Floyd, a new varsity middle blocker, was 19-of-19 from the service line with three aces. Senior Missy Chotvacs was perfect from behind the service line, as well. Seniors Tara King and Elizabeth Johnson, another new player, had two aces each.
But Steamboat's hitting and passing were inconsistent in the first game. It was the improvements in those phases, with passing being a "simple" thing Hall talked about, which enabled the Sailors to win the match.
"The first game was really frustrating," said sophomore Katy Gary, a new starter. "The rest of the games we came together."
Steamboat took the early lead in Game 2 before Greeley Central rallied for an 18-17 lead. Four Gary kills and one Floyd ace later, the Sailors were at game point. The Wildcats committed an error, giving Steamboat the win.
Gary picked up where she left off, recording seven kills alone in Game 3 to lift Steamboat to another game win.
The fourth and final game was the closest. Neither team had more than a three-point lead until sophomore Heidi Lord, a new middle blocker, gave the Sailors a 22-19 lead. Gary got the final two kills to end the match.
The outside hitter led Steamboat with 26 kills and just seven hitting errors, most of which came in the first game.
"That's a big wow for a sophomore in her first varsity match," Hall said.
Gary and senior Hestia Chase, who finished with nine kills at her new position at outside hitter, did a nice job mixing up their attacks between the line and cross-court.
"We were all working together," Gary said. "You see players in different spots."
Floyd finished with five kills and three blocks. Lord and Chase had two blocks. King, the setter, led the way with five blocks.
Steamboat's two previous matches against Greeley Central went the full five games, making Saturday's win that much more impressive. The Wildcats run a unique offense designed almost exclusively around quick sets, meaning the setter puts up a low set to the middle blocker on the net.
"We probably could have done a much better job counting on them to do the quick and getting our block up," Hall said. "That's just something we don't see a lot. We have these young middles who probably have never had to defend that before."
Greeley Central likely will be better than half the Western Slope League teams Steamboat will face this fall so Saturday's experience was helpful. The win was even better, Hall said.
"Overall," Hall said, "I'm real pleased with where we are."
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org