‘Horns break Skiers’ hearts | AspenTimes.com

‘Horns break Skiers’ hearts

Nate Peterson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Jim Paussa Special to The Aspen Times Aspen senior Katy Evans goes up for one of her 19 kills Friday night at Basalt.

BASALT ” Forget the football game.

The rivalry matchup that kept Skiers and Longhorns fans on the edge of their seats Friday night was in the Basalt gym.

After five games, 211 points and too many momentum swings to count, it was the Longhorns spikers who went home happy, earning the final two points in a frenzied 15-point tiebreaker to finish off resurgent Aspen.

When Basalt’s Maggie Everett blasted a slicing serve that Aspen’s back line couldn’t dig for the match-clinching point, her teammates swarmed in for a long embrace. On the other side of the net, there were blank stares all around, followed by tears.

“Wow!” said Basalt coach Dave Drozd after his team rallied to win the final two games to pull out the win (25-21, 17-25, 22-25, 25-19, 17-15). “I don’t know what to say. I just love the passion that [my players] showed at the end of the match to get a victory.”

Not that Aspen lacked any passion of its own on this night.

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A deflating opening loss in which Aspen blew a 19-12 lead only steeled the Skiers, who dominated Basalt in the following two games.

While Basalt struggled with first touches and was out of synch at the net in its two losses, accumulating numerous unforced errors, Aspen played with poise. The Skiers rolled to a 13-5 lead in the second game and held off a short-lived Basalt rally for the win, then opened the third game on a 10-2 run.

Senior middle blocker Katy Evans proved to be Aspen’s most efficient weapon, racking up a match high 19 kills, most of them into the middle of Basalt’s defense off quick sets from senior Kylie Westerlind. Evans also had success blocking Basalt at the front of the net with teammate Caroline Kelley, who finished with five stuffs.

“We just came to play tonight,” Evans said. “We just wanted to win. And we proved that. We gave them a challenge.”

On the brink of elimination at home, the defending league champion Longhorns responded by jumping out to a 6-1 lead in the fourth game. Evans helped pulled Aspen to within two, but Longhorns seniors Shelby Holmes and Heather Nemiec then scored Basalt’s next four points ” one off an ace from Holmes ” to put Basalt up, 15-10.

The game swung back and forth before, up 19-18, Basalt closed out the Skiers with a 6-1 run. A turning point was when Basalt’s Ashley Soucie and Everett stuffed Aspen’s most powerful hitter, senior Elissa Walter, to close out a marathon rally.

“Scariest [match[ of my life,” said a relieved Soucie after the win. “Losing to Aspen would be the worst thing ever.”

“Seriously, I think we were way too cocky,” the junior added. “We were like, ‘We always kill Aspen and we’re going to kill them again.’ Then, they came out with intensity in their eyes and we could all tell how serious they were. That’s when we got scared. That’s when we fell apart. I’m glad we brought it back at the end or else we would have been crying right now.”

In the fifth game, Aspen’s chances for the win were hurt by a lineup mix-up that first-year Skiers coach Clay Dahlman blamed on himself. In a match that saw plenty of moves and counter moves by both coaches, Dahlman was trying to shake up his lineup to get an advantage, but said he ended up putting his team in an awkward spot.

The Longhorns jumped out to an 8-2 lead before the Skiers rallied back again, using a 10-4 run to tie the game at 13.

“They fought back so hard,” Dahlman said. “What is amazing to me, and what I will take a measure of success from is that they were able to fight back and come back, despite being completely out of alignment from a coaching error.”

Both teams traded points up to 15, before Aspen’s Walter hit a spike that sailed long to give Everett the opportunity to clinch the win. The ensuing serve curved into the far left corner of Aspen’s side, dropping between two players.

The win moved Basalt to 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the 3A Western Slope. Aspen fell to 7-3 overall, 4-3 in league.

“It’s great that we almost beat them, but it sucks that we lost,” Evans said. “We’re really close. It’s too bad. … We lost Game 4 and that killed us.”

At least on this night.

“We’ve got one more chance at them and we’re ready,” Evans added. “We’re prepared now. We’re going to come out hard.”

npeterson@aspentimes.com.

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