Without a single district loss on their home court all season, Hayden headed into its Friday night match against Rangely with a confident stride. The Tigers hoped to get a win against the District 5-leading Panthers (17-2 overall, 8-0 in district).
The Panthers, however, had other plans.
With a win qualifying them for both the No. 1 seed in districts and an automatic qualifying berth for regionals, the Panthers pulled out Game 5 tie-breaker to win the match after four close games, 24-26, 34-32, 23-25, 25-22, 15-5.
The Panthers pulled away from a 9-9 tie in game one on some Hayden passing miscues and a couple of tight plays at the net, killed by Rangely's Nattiel Griggs. Down 19-24, Hayden mounted an impressive seven-point comeback sparked by an Emily Whiteman kill. After a block from Whiteman, Kylee Sweetser swung the momentum in the Tigers' favor with an emphatic kill. A set of Rangely errors ended the game, 26-24, in Hayden's favor.
The Panthers answered in a second game that went back and forth as both teams alternated one-point leads. Whiteman put Hayden up, 25-24, with a kill followed by a block, but then they relinquished the lead on missed serves. The Tigers had another chance to put the Panthers away after a Sweetser kill, but again missed a serve.
"Because we've never been where we're at now with the great season we're having, forcing teams into long matches, we're still learning to finish matches," Hayden coach Stephanie Davis said.
Hayden answered by winning another close match in game three, but Davis said she began running low on fresh substitutions as the game wore on.
"The back row had to play the front, our outside hitters were different and were we out of our pattern and system," Davis said.
Now at 4-3 in district, 10-7 overall, Hayden plays its final home game at 3 p.m. today against Vail Mountain School.