Volleyball team does the unexpected

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The members of the Moffat County High School volleyball could count on their hands how many people thought they would qualify for the regional tournament.

"Probably about the only people who thought we could do it were us, our parents and our coaches," said senior Brittany Hutton.

What they did was something that hasn't happened for Moffat County since, well, everybody's best guess is 1988.

The Bulldogs qualified for a regional tournament by placing second at the District 6 tournament.

The all-day tournament started with a three-game win for Moffat County over Niwot 26-24, 25-18, 25-23. It would be the only match that went in just three games for the Bulldogs. In the next match against Falcon, the Bulldogs dropped the first game, 18-25, but then rallied to win the next three, 25-18, 25-22, 25-18.

"The game against Falcon was when I started to realize how well we were playing," Hutton said. "Everybody was playing well at the same time and that hadn't happened this year."

The blue and white kept their hot streak going as they defeated the top seed in the pool, Northridge, 22-25, 25-19, 25-19, 21-25, 15-9.

In both matches, the Bulldogs rallied from losing the first game, something they weren't sure they could have done if they were playing Western Slope schools at the district.

"It would have been harder," said sophomore April Sanchez about playing in a district with the familiar foes, which had been done until this year's change by the Colorado High School Activities Association. "We had more confidence against teams we didn't know."

After pool play, the four teams remaining were the top four seeds in the tournament. First-seed Thomas Jefferson, second-seed Northridge, third-seed Moffat County and fourth-seed Pine Creek. The lower seeded Bulldogs and Pine Creek came out as the winners of their respective pools.

The first match for Moffat County came against 16-5 Thomas Jefferson. The teams split the first four games with the Bulldogs taking games one and three, 25-21, 25-16, and Thomas Jefferson taking two and four, 25-20, 25-15. In the difference maker, the Bulldogs took control, winning 15-7. The win sent them into the title game and into the first regional for the first time in at least 15 years.

According to coach Becky Howlett, six players carried the Bulldogs through those four matches, Hutton, Sanchez, junior Brandie Telfer and seniors Stephanie Kloos, Sheena Davis and Natalie Field.

"Those girls were exhausted but so was Pine Creek at the end of the day," Howlett said. "Still, both teams wanted it,"

After winning the first game, 25-12, the Bulldogs dropped the next two, 21-25, 23-25. A 25-15 win in the fourth game forced the Bulldogs' third, five-game match of the day. A battle ensued for the district title and Pine Creek emerged as the champion with a 17-15 win.

Despite the loss, the Bulldogs, who have won seven of their last eight matches, were pumped about their performance on Monday.

"They were showing off their bruises today," Howlett said. "But they were doing it with smiles."

Walking through the hallway at school made for a nice Monday for the volleyball players.

"It felt good walking through the halls because when people would ask we got to tell them how well we did," Hutton said.

"Mostly everybody already knew so they complemented us, which was nice." Sanchez said.

Now the Bulldogs have turned their focus to qualifying for the state tournament. Of the 16 teams that made it out of the districts, the Bulldogs earned a 13th seed. Glenwood Springs was the only other team to make it out of their district from the Western Slope.

"It is a little frustrating because we never clicked in the regular season to beat those teams that didn't get out of the district that beat us (Steamboat Springs, Palisade)," Hutton said.

The Bulldogs travel to Arvada and Ralston Valley High School to face the fourth-seeded hosts, fifth-seeded Montezuma-Cortez and 12th-seeded Berthoud.

Once again, the Bulldogs face teams they are unfamiliar with, something to which they have come to look forward.

"When you get to this level, you just go out and react," Howlett said. "They have to go out and play just as determined."

The regional will be a round-robin format and the top two teams after the day is over get to play in the Pepsi Center the next weekend.

"Our season goal was to make it to the regional, but at the start of practice, I told them we had a new goal," Howlett said. "The girls agreed and now state is the goal."

David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or dpressgrove@craigdailypress.com

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