Steamboat Springs Signs that the Hayden volleyball team was in trouble were easy to identify early in its first game Friday night.
Hayden High School fell in its homecoming match against Rangely, losing in four games, 25-20, 17-25, 25-16, 25-16.
The loss drops the Tigers to 10-4 on the season after a 7-1 start.
"It just comes down to passing. When we're passing, we're a really good team," Hayden coach Greg Johnson said. "Most of the night, we just didn't pass the ball that great. The last couple matches we've lost, we haven't passed well at all."
Rangely dominated Friday from the start.
The Panthers racked up a 15-5 lead and had Hayden thoroughly frustrated in the first game.
Junior Victoria Phelan led the Panthers with 15 kills on the night and was a force early, notching eight of those 15. The Tigers top hitters were shut down entirely, thanks to a strong and adaptive Rangely block.
The Panthers hitters, meanwhile, routinely were able to blast right through Hayden's blockers.
Rangely cooled some, hitting into the net three times as Hayden won five consecutive points to crawl within 21-19. The Tigers couldn't get any closer, however, and the Panthers closed the door with several more strong kills from Phelan.
At their worst, the Tigers struggled just to get the ball over the net. After rebounding from the disastrous first game with a dominant performance in the second, Hayden had trouble throughout the third, losing point after point to misplaced passes, errant kills and unforced errors.
Rangely clung to a 17-16 lead in the third game after strong kills from Kylee Sweetser and Holli Salazar, but Hayden didn't score again and then fell behind quickly in the fourth game.
"My two middle girls (Marie Morton and Phelan), they were great and really worked the block well," Rangely coach Jimmie Mergelman said. "I'm really proud of my girls. They stepped up, got the job done and kept (Hayden's) hitters from hammering our back row all the time."
The Tigers were at their best in the second game. Their hitters were able to dial in and dish up big swings while the block - nearly non-existent in the first game - but the brakes on Phelan and the suddenly error-prone Panthers.
Sweetser hammered a ball into the middle of the court and Hayden went up, 11-3. She landed an ace several minutes later for a 15-6 lead and the Tigers went up, 24-15, with a huge block from freshman Erin Koehler and senior Caitlyn Mahanna.
"When we ran our offense, it was really working and was confusing them," Johnson said. "We'll be OK. We have things we need to work on, and now I need to see how the team reacts to a couple losses."
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