Hayden's Erin Koehler, left, and Brette Frentress pick up a block Saturday during the district volleyball tournament in Oak Creek. The Tigers were at their best late, winning a thrilling five-set match against Paonia, but they were inconsistent in a pair of earlier matches against Meeker and Rangely.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden's Erin Koehler, left, and Brette Frentress pick up a block Saturday during the district volleyball tournament in Oak Creek. The Tigers were at their best late, winning a thrilling five-set match against Paonia, but they were inconsistent in a pair of earlier matches against Meeker and Rangely.

Hayden volleyball finishes districts with win but won’t move on

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Hayden's Olivia Zehner bumps a ball Saturday at the district volleyball tournament in Oak Creek.

— Something odd happened late in the marathon day that was the Class 2A District 5 high school volleyball tournament in Oak Creek.

Groups of players from Meeker and Rangely high schools finished playing, and hopeful to advance to next weekend’s regional tournament, began staging elaborate cheers, exploding with every block and screaming at every kill, celebrating the success not of their own team, but Hayden’s, which battled in the last match of the day against Paonia.

It was a nice gesture, one that brought smiles to faces of the Tigers on the court, but one at the same time that signaled all had gone wrong. The crowd — fans who had supported Hayden for years and fans who had supported them for a few minutes — erupted when the team finally pulled off a five-set final match victory that eliminated any potential tie-breaking fiasco, storming on to the court to hug and congratulate the Tigers, but it was all bittersweet. Hayden was reduced to playing the role of spoiler, and though it finished its season with a win, a 1-2 tournament record ensured the season indeed was finished.

“It’s frustrating because we had the potential to go on,” senior Brette Frentress said, “but, that was a great way to end the year.”

The flame that was Hayden’s chance of moving on was extinguished when Meeker went five games to beat Rangely in the day’s penultimate match.

Had that result been different, the Tigers, despite losing to the Cowboys and the Panthers, could have worked their way through the right combination of tiebreakers and still possibly advance to regionals.

The team’s season, however, wasn’t extinguished until it did as its new-found fans hoped, all at once knocking off Paonia, sending Meeker and Rangely to the regional volleyball tournament and once again offering a perplexing result.

Hayden was hot and cold Saturday, just as it’s been all season, but the rare privilege of ending the season with a win wasn’t lost on the team.

Aubree Haskins had two big kills early in the last game, Jacie Temple had a key ace, Olivia Zehner had an important scoring tap and Jordan Temple had two of the final three points, one via a kill and the final with an ace, to sew up the victory.

“Knowing it was our last game of the season, as seniors and playing against Paonia, we wanted to go out with a win,” Haskins said. “It felt like everyone was behind us. We were all pretty excited about it, even though we knew we weren’t going on to regionals. We were excited about playing and winning.”

During the day, Hayden often was close. It fell, 15-12, in the final frame of a five-game loss to Meeker early in the morning. It lost to Rangely in four despite a glistening 25-14 win in the first game.

The tournament started Tuesday, when the field of seven teams was pared down to four and when the hosting school, Soroco, was eliminated. Hayden entered Saturday’s action as the second seed but hadn’t beaten any of the teams remaining in the field. That only changed when Hayden beat Paonia, and that up-and-down summarized the entire district’s season as well as it did Hayden’s.

Paonia was the tournament’s top seed, but it was No. 4 Rangely and No. 6 Meeker that emerged from the breathtakingly close day of action.

Four of the day’s six matches went to five games and the other two lasted four, the tournament unfolding across 12 hours.

“It was anyone’s ballgame,” Hayden coach Holli Palmer said. “Our league this year has been ups and downs. It’s been competitive all season. The teams going on to regionals, they’ll be competitive there because the play here was so tough.

“For us, that last match was unfortunate for the seniors, but it’s a great way to help us build our team. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

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

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