Tigers to rely on 8 seniors

Hayden hopes for volleyball turnaround

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2008 fall schedule

Hayden High School volleyball

Saturday: at Plateau Valley Tournament

Tuesday: vs. West Grand, 4:30 p.m.

Sept. 5: at DeBeque, 5 p.m.

Sept. 6: vs. Plateau Valley, 1 p.m.

Sept. 9: at North Park, 4:30 p.m.

Sept. 12: vs. Baggs, 4:30 p.m.

Sept. 13: vs. Vail Christian, 1 p.m.

Sept. 19: at West Grand, 5 p.m.

Sept. 20: vs. Vail Mountain, 1 p.m.

Sept. 26: at Paonia, 3:30 p.m.

Sept. 27: vs. Meeker, 1 p.m.

Oct. 3: vs. Rangely, 4 p.m.

Oct. 7: vs. North Park, 4:30 p.m.

Oct. 10: vs. Soroco, 4 p.m.

Oct. 14: at Baggs, 4:30 p.m.

Oct. 17: at Meeker, 4 p.m.

Oct. 18: at Soroco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 24 to 25: District tournament, at Paonia

— A disappointing season turned purely rotten late last fall for the Hayden volleyball team when it went 0-3 in pool play at the district tournament.

Follow that up with a long offseason, most of which the Tiger program went without a coach.

Still, a sense of optimism reigned Wednesday afternoon as Hayden took its swings at bringing its volleyball fortunes full circle. The Tigers passed and spiked, set and blocked, and brought intensity to seemingly every point of an un-scored scrimmage against Soroco.

It was the Rams that provided the final stake in Hayden's heart last October, upsetting the Tigers and capping off the miserable season-ending tournament in Rangely.

And it was against Soroco on Wednesday that the Tigers said they think they found some of what was missing.

"Our passing was better," Tiger senior Holli Salazar said, accessing the day's performance. "We're getting a lot better at that, and it was really lacking last year. If we can get our passes down, we'll be a lot better."

Hayden wasn't hopeless going into that tournament last year, entering with a winning record and the No. 4 seed in the eight-team field. It all fell apart during the following two days and now, Hayden's looking to its natural resources to iron out last fall's problems.

It will look to Salazar's right arm, the instrument that earned her honorable mention all-league honors a year ago before making her the Class 2A state shot put champion in the spring.

It will look to experience in an eight-player senior class that features leaders such as four-year varsity stalwart Kylee Sweetser and the experienced Caitlyn Mahanna, who will serve as one of the team's main setters.

And Hayden hopes to mine the natural resources that are the Koehler sisters - Rachael, a junior, and Erin, a sophomore. The pair played a commanding role Wednesday against Soroco, with Rachael racking up blocks as she patrolled above the net thanks to her 6-foot-1-inch frame.

Erin, standing at 5-11, picked up several blocks herself.

It's not just the height and power that appealed to first-year coach Greg Johnson, however.

"I came in my first day when I got interviewed and watched an open gym basketball practice, and without seeing any of them even play volleyball, I knew we had a lot of athletes," said Johnson, who has logged time as a player and as a coach at the club level. "They came in with fresh minds this year, and they have really responded well. The whole team is playing hard. They're all listening, and that's the biggest thing now."

Hayden's players said they're ready for whatever commitment it's going to take.

When the scrimmage ended Wednesday, Hayden hadn't won anything. The team had put together good moments with solid passing and efficient and powerful hitting, and it had struggled through poor moments where sets flew awry and serves soared long.

Salazar and Mahanna couldn't help but squeeze a little more out of the experience. After Soroco had loaded up and returned to its bus, other Hayden teammates and the many parents who had gathered to watch all had cleared out, the senior teammates went back to the court.

Time and time again, Mahanna lofted the ball high and Salazar practiced her approach and her crushing swing, blasting the ball across a nearly empty gym.

"All that matters this year is where we are at the end. We want to be district champs," Mahanna said. "By the end of last year, our hearts weren't really in it any more, but this year, we're all a lot more dedicated. We want it a lot more this year."

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