Sailors stay on course in Huskies win

With slightly more than three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Steamboat Springs volleyball team is beginning to display the kind of ball befitting a postseason contender.

Steamboat defeated Battle Mountain easily Thursday, 25-16, 25-10, 25-19, behind improved blocking, stout defense and overpowering net play.

Despite losing in three close sets, junior Stacy Cavanagh said Steamboat (12-3 overall, 7-1 in the league) started coming around after the Glenwood Springs match Sept. 25. Since that defeat last week, the Sailors have reeled off three straight league wins, dominating their opponents -- Moffat County, Rifle and Battle Mountain -- in straight-set victories.

"I think we realized that the only thing holding us back was our confidence level," Cavanagh said. "We're getting stronger mentally."

And coach Wendy Hall believes the Sailors' mental toughness is the only area that could hold her team back from realizing its potential.

On Thursday, the Huskies found out the hard way how offensively balanced the Sailors can be when solid passing enables setters Brynn Gotchey, a senior, and Tara King, a sophomore, to distribute the ball.

Senior Hannah Gary led the way with 16 kills, but junior Kristyn Bradbury and Cavanagh had 11 and eight kills, respectively. Seniors Shelley Dunlop and Katie Liefer each contributed one kill.

But Thursday's match against Battle Mountain was the first time all season that Steamboat's starting five hitters attacked the net confidently and aggressively as a group during a home match.

Hall said her team has a tendency to look to a different hitter each night to lead the team, but Thursday's performance goes a long way in convincing the players on the floor that each is just as valuable as the next.

"Hannah is exciting, Kristyn is exciting and Stacy is exciting, but there are others capable of making exciting plays, and it doesn't have to be on offense," Hall said. "Anyone on the team is capable of that leadership if they think they could be the one that makes the next big play."

Thursday, the Sailors imposed their presence at the net beyond the kills. Cavanagh and Gary combined for six blocks, causing the Huskies to over-attack and hit balls out deep or wide.

"We have our on nights and off nights blocking," Cavanagh said. "(Thursday) was an on night."

Steamboat got off to a quick start in all three games Thursday but let up a bit in the third, allowing Battle Mountain to close a 20-11 gap to 21-17 before the Sailors responded with four of the final six points to win the third game.

But Steamboat didn't relax and allow Battle Mountain to reel off six or seven straight points, as has been the case in previous matches this year. The ability to cut short comeback attempts is a sign of improving mental toughness, and an improving team.

Another sign of a team sensing the approaching end of the season is the extra work its players want to put in. Hall said she's had to kick Dunlop and Cavanagh out of the gym after practice because the two will swing all night.

"The more they do that, the more confident they get," Hall said. "We've talked about where we want to be by the end of October."

Steamboat's wraps up its home schedule against Palisade and Delta on Oct. 10 and 11. The Sailors play the Bulldogs at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10 and the Panthers at 1 p.m. Oct. 11.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com.

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