The Hayden High School girls volleyball team erupts Saturday after the final point in the Tigers’ five-game upset victory against Vail Christian.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

The Hayden High School girls volleyball team erupts Saturday after the final point in the Tigers’ five-game upset victory against Vail Christian.

Hayden volleyball squad near perfect to pull upset

Hayden volleyball team knocks off league powerhouse Vail Christian

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Hayden's Jordan Temple knocks a ball between a pair of Vail Christian defenders Saturday.

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Hayden's Aubree Haskins watches after blocking a shot Saturday against Vail Christian.

— The Jets against the Colts in 1969, Team USA hockey against Russia in 1980, Buster Douglas against Mike Tyson in 1990 … Hayden volleyball against Vail Christian in 2011?

OK, a small-class Colorado high school volleyball game doesn’t have any business on a list with those all-time upsets, but what the Tigers accomplished Saturday in their home gym deserves some kind of recognition.

Hayden entered the weekend needing a split between a Friday night game against middle-of-the-pack Vail Moun­­tain and Saturday’s showdown against untouched, unchallenged Vail Christian. In a twist that’s a typo waiting to happen, Hayden got that split, falling Friday in a sweep against Vail Mountain and winning in five games to close out its regular season home schedule against mighty Vail Christian.

“That was the perfect game to be our last home game,” senior Aubree Haskins said.

Tigers’ coach Holli Palmer said she wasn’t disappointed in Friday’s loss at Vail Mountain and said that the Gore Rangers were much improved and healthier than the team Hayden beat in four games three weeks earlier.

She said despite losing 25-22, 25-20 and 25-23, Hayden played well Friday night.

Good on Friday was elevated to brilliant Saturday, when the Tigers delivered crushing blows, weathered Vail Christian’s powerful hitters and, in five edge-of-your-seat games, found the win they hope can define their team heading into the district tournament.

The Tigers won, 25-21, 22-25, 25-19, 25-27 and 15-9.

“I told the girls going into it this was going to be the game of their lives,” Palmer said. “We finally are the team I want them to be. They’re finally the team I know they can be. They showed their full potential today.”

The thing about Hayden’s win is that it simply didn’t catch Vail Christian on a bad day. Maybe that was part of it, but after the Tigers took the first and third games and roared ahead in the fourth, the Saints woke up and were razor sharp. Junior Gracen McGuckin slammed home three quick kills, and senior Ashlyn Gruber caught fire, smashing kills, some so hard that it’s a wonder they didn’t leave craters.

Vail Christian entered the game 17-1 and 8-0 in the league and had lost only seven sets all season. It staved off defeat with a huge rally in the fourth game, but it couldn’t stop a Tigers team at its best.

The Tigers blocked well all night long. Erin Koehler finished with 11 solo blocks, and Aubree Haskins had nine. The team swung hard and was resilient on defense, and it cruised through the first-to-15 fifth game.

“We just came together,” senior Jacie Temple said. “We were communicating constantly, and everyone played their hearts out.”

Just what it all will mean for Hayden in the district tournament, which starts Tuesday, wasn’t yet clear Saturday as scores had yet to trickle in from elsewhere in the state. What was clear, though, is that when the Tigers take the court in the first round of the tournament — against whomever or wherever that takes place, including potentially back in Hayden — they will be on a high unlike any other they can remember.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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