Joel Reichenberger: Steamboat’s special class | SteamboatToday.com

Joel Reichenberger: Steamboat’s special class

— This was not the way it was supposed to go, yet in the aftermath of the Steamboat Springs High School volleyball team's devastating upset loss at home in the regional tournament, the Sailors and their coach said the right things.

"It was definitely tough that we can't move on to state, but the biggest bomb on us was that we'll never play again," senior Maddie Labor said. "We'll miss each other more than we'll miss anything we were playing for."

Those are beautiful words, especially considering the magnitude of the moment in Labor's volleyball-centric world, but that's a sentiment a lot of high school seniors share in the moment after the final game.

It's not the defeat. It's that it's the last defeat.

Coach Wendy Hall, too, hit a familiar point.

"It's hard to say goodbye to these seniors,” she said. “They're really incredible kids."

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Plenty of coaches hit that mark moments after their final loss.

Hall has said again and again this season that there's something different about these girls, however, and its never been more evident than it was Saturday in the midst of their biggest letdown.

This wasn't your average class or your average season, and in turn, this wasn't your average season-ending loss.

Every so often a special class of athletes comes along. Think of the football stars who took the Sailors' team to the state championship game in 2009, or the boys lacrosse players who pushed to the state semifinals in 2012 and 2013.

These girls definitely qualify. They’re 10 seniors who swept the Sailors' volleyball program to its highest point in more than a decade, a league championship.

They were uniquely and diversely talented.

The Wiedel twins developed standout setting skills and Labor was so good at libero that Saturday’s opponents dedicated themselves to plotting around her.

When Hayley Johnson fist pumped after a big kill, she threw her arm so hard she’d earn a trip to jail if she ever hit anyone with it, and Jenna Miller, she hit plenty hard herself and would be the same smiley teammate no matter where the ball landed.

Maddie Clock would charge up the middle before jumping for a kill like a fullback smashing over the goalline, and Annie Osbourn brought a fierceness to every hit, every point, no one can forget. Callie Heil and Anna Skubiz provided big points, as well, and Britney Starks, injured this season, cheered from the bench, and together they were a special group.

They handled Saturday's defeat with as much class as possible.

As her teammates cried and collapsed, Abigail Wiedel clapped for Silver Creek as she wandered to the sideline.

Talking after the match, Labor straight up praised Silver Creek's heart and tenacity.

They aren't just good losers. They're good kids.

Every team claims to be "close." Who isn't after a summer of camps and workouts, after years of long bus rides and trying experiences?

Of course they're close.

These girls take it to another level.

They planned for hosting the regional tournament off the court as well as on, and spent Friday hauling bean bags, stereo speakers and stuffed animals into their locker room.

Why? Because they knew they'd have some time off between matches, and they wanted to spend it together.

I was talking to Hall earlier in the week when one pack of players went by with an arm full of furnishings.

"They know they're only going to have about an hour between matches, right?" I asked.

She grinned and rolled her eyes.

"It's all about the process," she said.

They knew it was special, and they knew how special, how it wasn't the same on other teams, in other years.

"We're family," Labor said. "We been through things no one else has been through in a friendship, and it's made us have such a strong bond.

"It's going to be hard to find something similar to it."

A handful of the varsity players are only at a half-way point on their volleyball career trajectory. They'll go on to play college ball, the Wiedel twins to a school Minnesota, Labor to Regis University in Denver.

They'll find friends, "family," and they'll cry on senior night, but they may never find something quite the same.

Of that, Hall's well aware.

Senior classes come and go, and it’s hard for the coaches and players every time. This year’s team was something else, however, a special group, and they won’t be soon forgotten.

Their season ended in a brutal home-court playoff loss, but their story is a great one, one of the Sailors’ volleyball program at its high tide, special kids, a special season and a special team.

"I would be no more proud of them if they'd won," Hall said. "I'm proud of the people they are. They're incredible volleyball players, but they're incredible people, and that's really what I'm most proud of."

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