Heartbreaker: Sailors’ season ends with devastating regional tourney loss | SteamboatToday.com

Heartbreaker: Sailors’ season ends with devastating regional tourney loss

Sailors' season ends with devastating regional tourney loss

Steamboat senior Jenna Miller buries her face in hands after the Sailors' regional tournament loss to Silver Creek on Saturday.
Joel Reichenberger

Class 4A region 8 volleyball

No. 8 Steamboat def. No. 29 Silver Creek, 25-19, 25-16, 25-20

Silver Creek def. No. 17 Erie, 25-19, 25-19, 17-25, 25-19

Erie def. Steamboat, 25-10, 25-21, 20-25, 25-22

Silver Creek def. Erie, 25-16

Silver Creek def. Steamboat, 25-22

— When she’s on a volleyball court, Steamboat Springs High School senior Jenna Miller seems to have two faces: focused during a point, and grinning after one.

An errant shot may bring a momentary grimace, but the smile and then the focus are back in a heartbeat.

Saturday, however, smiling wasn’t an option, at least not in the moment, and as the final point in a knee-buckling, heart-stopping, soul-rattling defeat fell to the floor, Miller could only put her hands to her head as tears flowed and the opponent, unheralded Silver Creek, stormed the court in jubilation.

Steamboat put together its finest season in more than a decade this autumn, earning the No. 8 seed in the state and the right to play host to a three-team regional tournament. Saturday, the lowest seed at the regional, No. 29 Silver Creek, turned it all upside down, beating the Sailors in a one-set winner-take-all tiebreaker, 25-22.

Half an hour later, Miller tried to sum it all up — the crazy day, the confusing tiebreakers, the endless volleyball and finally, the last set that crushed her team’s dreams.

She did it, somehow, with a smile.

“I’m so proud of our team,” she said. “We played with everything we have. There was just nothing left for us to give.”

Unexpectedly on top

The journey to that all-or-nothing tiebreaker was a weird one.

Steamboat opened the day with a dominating three-set victory against Silver Creek, but the Raptors responded by beating No. 17 Erie in four sets.

Erie, in turn, bounced back to beat the Sailors in four sets.

That left all three teams in the region tied, 1-1, and forced a series of one-set tiebreakers.

Silver Creek won the first of those tiebreaking sets, knocking Erie out for good, 25-16.

It then did it again, scoring eight of the final 10 points in the set to shock Steamboat and earn the trip to next weekend’s state tournament.

“Our team starts slow,” Silver Creek coach Jill Olson said.

That turned out to be a valuable trait on a day when the volleyball never seemed to end. Indeed, her team got better as it went along.

She said even making regionals was a goal that only came into focus late in the season for her team, stacked with juniors and sophomores.

Now, it’s going to state.

“We had a two-year plan for these girls,” she said. “They’ve blown that out of the water.”

Tipped off

The Sailors didn’t seem to be in for much of a fight until that second match, against Erie. They’d blasted Silver Creek in the morning’s first match, 25-19, 25-16, 25-20.

The Tigers proved to be a different beast, however, and they rocked Steamboat straight out of the gate, taking the first set decisively. Erie went on to win, 25-10, 25-21, 20-25, 25-22.

The Tigers found success tipping the ball over blockers, keeping serves to the edges and hitting hard in the middle. None of those issues have troubled the Sailors greatly this season, but Saturday, they were kryptonite, melting away the team’s powers.

“We’ve been reading tips well all year, but today we couldn’t cover them,” Steamboat coach Wendy Hall said. “We just froze up a little bit.”

Silver Creek adopted Erie’s gameplan for the final tiebreaking set.

Steamboat appeared on track to close out the win on several occasions, even leading late, but simply couldn’t stop the Raptors when absolutely necessary.

“We were up 19-17, and I thought we had it,” senior Maddie Labor said. “But, you string a couple of errors together, and you get a little doubt in your mind, and it’s like a cancer. It takes over.”

The Sailors made big plays in the final set. Miller had one huge block, and senior Maritza Wiedel another, back-to-back, to put the team up 16-14.

It had big hits, too, a few final, thundering swings from senior Hayley Johnson that gave the team hope late.

Still, there was something on the other side of the net Steamboat simply couldn’t match.

Labor considered it and, like Miller, she even managed a smile.

“Silver Creek played with the most heart I’ve ever seen any team play with,” Labor said. “That was amazing to see. We fought. I’m not disappointed in how we fought, but they fought that extra inch harder.”

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

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