Some disorganization and maybe a little dose of intimidation leashed the Lady Bulldogs when the Steamboat Springs Lady Sailors cruised into Craig Thursday night.
"I thought they were playing a little scared," said head Bulldogs' head coach Vicki Haddan after her varsity squad was keelhauled by the Sailors in straight sets, 15-6, 15-7.
"They're a strong team," Haddan said. "One day we'll get over the hump, though, and convince ourselves we can beat them. I was hoping this would be the one, but it wasn't meant to be."
Steamboat stepped to the net with a lot of size and confidence, and they opened up the scoring on their first serve. Bulldog buried one on the baseline to claim side-out for Moffat County, but it would be a while before they could capitalize on a serve.
The Bulldogs were hitting everything long early, and Steamboat rattled off eight straight points before the Bulldogs could get on the board.
"We started slow," said Haddan. "We just couldn't seem to get it going early, and they took advantage of that."
The Bulldogs seemed a little out of sync in game one. Spacing was a bit off, and they were sometimes caught out of position. The Sailors were taking advantage of their size up front, and a lot of balls were finding open floor right in the center of the court.
As the game wore on, the Bulldogs settled down, and they began to take some pace off the ball, and play more of a placement game. While Steamboat was in control, the Bulldogs toughened up, and a tremendous block at the net by Vanessa Wilson made it 3-9.
After a time-out, Steamboat stoked the boilers and left the Bulldogs in their wake. They scored the next three points and then just cruised to the 15-6 win.
Much of Steamboat's success can be attributed to improvements made by several sophomore players on the team, according to Head Coach Wendy Hall.
"What we lacked early was my sophomore kids weren't really comfortable with their role and responsibilities on the team," Hall said. "The last two weeks, they've taken a step in the right direction in terms of what's expected of them." Hall said the sophomores couldn't have matured at a better time with the district tournament just one week away.
The Bulldogs have some maturity and a lot of talent too, though, and they weren't about to just lay down.
The second game was actually much harder fought than the 15-7 score would indicate. The Bulldogs played tough, and they had many opportunities to make the game closer. In the end, though, Jessica Johnson and Bayli Stillwell dominated play at the net while sophomore Abby Fritz controlled the middle with some intense play.
The Bulldogs started the second game hot, rattling off three quick scores. Steamboat remained patient and poised and tied the game at three. The Sailors did look a little less organized early in the second game, and the players admonished one another about spacing and position problems. The intensity payed off, and they began to pull away. Johnson punctuated a scoring run with a vicious spike to the heart of the Moffat County defense that put the Sailors ahead 6-3. Johnson blasted another shot to the baseline later to give Steamboat game-point at 14-6.
After all the hard hitting and desparate digging, the game ended on a quiet note with a high floating ball dropping an inch over the net onto the Bulldogs' floor.
The Bulldogs finish their season against Glenwood in Craig, and that game will have some bearing over whether the team finishes third or fourth in the league.
Moffat County and Palisade are tied for third going into the last game, but Palisade has the tie-breaker advantage in head-to-head play.
The Bulldogs will need a win against Glenwood plus a Palisade loss to claim the third spot and a better seeding in the district tourney.
Steamboat is in a similar situation. The Sailors are tied for first in the league with Rifle, but Rifle has the tie-break advantage.
"It almost doesn't matter, though," Hall said. "Next week everybody starts 0-0 again. The teams that struggled a little will get a clean slate, and the teams that finished higher will have to prove themselves all over again."
Haddan feels positive about the future in many ways. She believes she has a strong squad going into the district tourney, and the more distant future also looks bright to her.
While the Bulldogs' junior varsity squad also fell in straight sets to Steamboat, but the freshmen scored another straight-set win. The freshmen girls have lost only one game this season, and Haddan believes they very well could have gone undefeated.
"They're going to give is a great team in a couple of years," Haddan said.