Saints roll against Aspen |

Saints roll against Aspen

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN -The Aspen volleyball team was happy to be home. Still, it couldn’t shake its early-season struggles.

The Skiers squandered leads of six or more in each of the first two games in Tuesday’s home opener against Vail Christian. They tried to extend the match with a comeback bid in a tight Game 3, but faded down the stretch en route to a 15-25, 20-25, 22-25 loss.

“I’m proud of the girls. … They came out and fought hard,” Aspen head coach Clay Dahlman said. “It was a seesaw match, and we had real trouble maintaining consistency.”

Aspen, which opened this season with five losses on the road (three to conference opponents), scored seven of the match’s first eight points, capitalizing on a slew of Saints miscues and some timely blocking. Things shifted drastically, however, after a Vail Christian timeout.

The Saints erupted for nine straight points – five came on Skiers errors – and began to control play at the net. Ashlyn Gruber and Brooke Bowles combined for seven kills in the game.

Vail Christian closed on a 24-8 run. Aspen could draw no closer than four down the stretch.

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Game 2 followed a similar script. After jumping out to an 12-5 lead, the Skiers were whistled for a lift. The Saints scored the game’s next eight points. Multiple Aspen kills clipped the net or sailed long and, on two occasions, Skiers players tried in vain to chase down errant digs that floated toward the stands.

Dahlman called a timeout with his team trailing, 14-12. He called another after a Bowles kill stretched the Vail Christian advantage to 21-18. He could do little to slow the Saints, however. On game point, Beri Dwyer alertly tipped the ball over a wall of Skiers and in front of the back row to seal the victory and a commanding two-game lead.

“We need to work on our ability to close – we give up five or six points at a time, and it’s frustrating for me,” Dahlman said. “We need to work on building a more ferocious offensive attack. … We have some hitters who are not aggressive.”

Aspen tried to turn the tide in the third game, battling back from six down to square things at 13. Then, the Skiers hit three consecutive errant digs and were whistled for a net violation. After pulling to within two, they committed three more miscues.

Fittingly, Vail Christian sealed Game 3 and the match when an Aspen player’s attempted cross sailed wide of the court.

“We didn’t start the season saying we’d be the top dog in the league,” Dahlman said. “I know the numbers don’t look great, but we’ve had to face some adversity.”

Starting setter Madison Murdock had her appendix taken out last week, and Dahlman had to cancel Friday’s practice because half of his roster was battling illness. The Skiers have been at less than full strength for more than a week, and the losses have piled up.

Dahlman is optimistic his young squad can turn things around. They travel to Hotchkiss on Friday.

“We’ve had a tough schedule and nothing has been given us. … I tell the girls to keep their heads up because we’re really getting better as we go along,” Dahlman said. “I don’t find the losses frustrating. When they show they’re improving, I’m pleased as a coach.”

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