Local volleyball teams off to regionals

— Basement-dwelling Hayden and Soroco volleyball teams are looking for new life in Saturday's 2A Western Slope volleyball tournaments at Eagle Valley High School.

The Hayden Tigers' 3-7 league record and the Soroco Rams' 2-9 league record going into the tournament puts the teams at the bottom of their six-team conference.

However, the coaches for both local teams say the competition and ability of all the teams in the league are tighter than they have been in a few years, which could open the door for a tournament upset.

At the beginning of the year, Rams coach Amy Pankonin said she thought her team would easily have one of the better records in the conference come tournament time.

"We are physically one of the better teams in the league," she said.

Senior Sara Jo Linden's tall presence and hitting ability made her a standout early on, but Pankonin said the Rams just never came together as a team to win games.

"They are really fighting inconsistency," she said.

Pankonin has struggled to find a setter for the team or find a player that will play well consistently every game.

The Tigers were in a different boat during the regular season, but it has sailed to a similar destination. Hayden starts its games with one senior player, Kristin Brown, who leads the team.

But junior setter Diane Hull and junior hitter Adriana Svoboda are playing like seniors, while younger players also have performed well.

The losing league record may be coming from a lack of experience. Tigers coach Kipp Rillos said his girls have been in every game but just haven't been able to put matches away in the end.

"Execution has probably been our downfall," Rillos said.

Down the stretch in close games, key fundamental mistakes are what hurt the team in the regular season, he said.

The North Park Wildcats captured the first seed for Saturday's tournament with a 10-0 league record. Coach Randy Hodgson said his team is playing well behind two very good players, Scotland Wattenberg and Nikki Roben.

"We have good depth and a variety of places to go with the ball," Hodgson said. "We feel good about being seeded first and we expect to play well."

Despite the undefeated record, Pankonin and Rillos said North Park or the second-seeded team, Grand Valley (8-2), are not completely dominating teams and can be defeated by anyone in the league on any given day.

For winning the league title, North Park gets one of two spots in the regional tournament no matter how the team plays. The winner of the tournament will get the open slot. If North Park wins the tournament, then the second-place team gets the slot.

With the level of playing in the league being very tight, the teams that peak at the tournament will be the ones who win. It also is going to produce some very good games Rillos predicted.

For Soroco and Hayden, prospects are hopeful to peak at the right time and pull off a few upset wins. Soroco is coming off a big win against West Grand last Friday to end its regular season. Hayden lost at Plateau Valley in its season-ender, but Rillos said it was a close game and, on a neutral court Hayden would have won.

"Whoever goes to Eagle Valley and puts it together is going to walk out of there," Rillos said. "The tournament is up for grabs."

Soroco takes the court first at 9 a.m. at Eagle Valley High School against Plateau Valley.

If Soroco wins, the team is seeded third and plays North Park at 2 p.m.

Hayden plays West Grand at 10:15 a.m. If Hayden prevails, it gets the fourth seed and meets up with Grand Valley at 3:15 p.m.

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