Confident and playing sharp, Sailors volleyball eyes turnaround | SteamboatToday.com

Confident and playing sharp, Sailors volleyball eyes turnaround

Steamboat's Micah Feeley, left, celebrates a point earlier this season. The Sailors have won their last two matches and now play at home Thursday with as much confidence as they've had all season.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Returning the vast majority of its starters in a program with plenty of recent success and pride, there were certain expectations this fall for the Steamboat Springs High School volleyball team, but something happened early. Something went wrong, coach Wendy Hall said.

"This team, if you looked at who returned and who played last year, it's a very seasoned team," she said. "For some reason, we got rattled early on and lost our mojo."

The team opened the season 4-9, and lost its first matches games in the Western Slope League, but it won its first league match Sept. 30, defeating Rifle in three sets, then made it two in a row last weekend, going on the road to knock off Summit in three sets.

Now the Sailors are playing at 6 p.m. Thursday at home against Battle Mountain, and they're hoping to turn some newfound confidence into a full blown turnaround.

Steamboat enters the second half of its league schedule with Thursday's match, and it does so with more confidence than it's had all season, Hall said.

Much of that comes from the game against Summit, where the Sailors won, 25-13, 25-18, 25-21.

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There was plenty to like, but two things stand out. First was simply the way the squad finished that third set, from beginning to end the tightest of the night.

"We got to that 20, 21 point range, which so often this year we've tightened up," Hall said. "This time, we didn't. We held steady and played with confidence to close the deal."

After that, Hall said the key was the team's acumen in receiving serves. It was as sharp as it's been all season.

Receiving a serve well is the first step to playing good team volleyball. A good receive leads to a good set by Steamboat's setters, and a good set leads to a much better hit from the team's hitters.

Getting low and scooping up an opponents serve isn't easy, however. It takes confidence and focus. Finally, against Summit, that started to show up.

Hall turned much of the team's recent time in practice to serve receive and even began scoring her players on their performance in that time. The scale runs from 3, a perfect reception and pass, to 0, a total whiff. She broke the skills back down to their basics in recent weeks, then tracked 100 passes per practice, watching and keeping score on a whiteboard as the Sailors sharpened their skills.

Against Summit, it made for fewer errors, better sets and ultimately better hits.

"We hit almost, 0.280 as a team. That's a really good hitting score and that's a reflection on our ball control," she said. "That's the hitters, but that is the passers and the setters, too. That is a team reflection."

Now they're as sharp as they've been all season, and perhaps just in time. The state's top 36 teams will qualify for the regional tournament. Teams are divided into three-team pods, one host team from the state's top 12, a team from the next 12 and a team from the bottom 12.

Steamboat won't make the top 12 at this point, and is a long shot to make the 13-24 ranks. The closer to 24 it gets, however, the better shot it will have to find success if it does make the tournament.

The journey to do so starts Thursday at home against Battle Mountain, and Hall said the team is more ready for that challenge now than it's been all season.

"If we really start to play with confidence, you'll see this team turn its season around," Hall said. "This is a good starting point for us."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.

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