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Aspen spikers sitting pretty

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times
ALL |

ASPEN ” Pretty in pink.

On a night when they donned brightly-colored knee-high socks in support of breast cancer awareness, the Aspen girls volleyball team made much more than a fashion statement Tuesday against visiting Basalt. The Skiers jumped out to a 12-3 lead and cruised to a convincing 12-point opening-game win. They rebounded from a lull in Game 2 with victories in the third and fourth games to seal the 3-1 victory (25-13, 16-25, 25-19, 25-19) and pull into a tie for third place with their downvalley rivals.

Both team are 12-6 overall and 9-6 in the 3A Western Slope. Should both teams win in Friday’s regular-season finales ” Aspen hosts Roaring Fork while the Longhorns travel to Cedaredge ” the Skiers will lock up third place by virtue of their five wins in nine games against Basalt this season.

Both teams have already locked up District berths.

“Aspen was on a mission tonight,” said Skiers head coach Clayton Dahlman. “We always felt like we could beat them. We put a stamp on that tonight.

“We wanted this badly.”

So badly that senior Kylie Westerlind took the court just three days after being taken to the hospital after severely rolling her ankle during pre-game warm-ups in Hotchkiss.

“I couldn’t miss the chance to play Basalt one last time at home,” the senior said. “I think the team trusted me enough to let me play even though it might have limited the team.”

The Skiers were far from limited. Senior Katie Evans dumped a ball, then stuffed a Longhorns player on back-to-back plays to open the match. Aspen controlled the net early, punishing the Longhorns defense with strong kills and contesting nearly every shot on defense. Junior Caroline Kelly teamed first with senior Rio Crandall, then senior Elissa Walter to stuff consecutive shots and stretch the lead to 9-3. Then Basalt uncharacteristically unraveled, hitting two errant digs and having a kill attempt sail into the net. Westerlind put the finishing touches on a 16-4 opening run when she went low to dig a kill attempt and the ball sailed over the net and barely landed in bounds.

The Longhorns would get no closer than nine the rest of the game as they strung together two or more consecutive points just three times.

“Honestly, that first game was pretty embarrassing,” Basalt head coach Dave Drozd said. “I’d take a loss if we played well, but that was just sporadic volleyball.”

The Longhorns regrouped in the second game, leaning on their strong service game to erase a early deficit. Kehau Vegas and Ashley Soucie recorded aces during a 4-1 Basalt run to tie the game. Nancy Hernandez’s ace minutes later fueled a 7-1 run as the Longhorns took an 11-7 lead.

Westerlind hit two dumps and Walter and Evans blocked Maggie Everett’s attempted kill as the Skiers pulled to within two at 15-13. Senior Shelby Holmes helped Basalt regain momentum, executing a dump to finish off a long rally. The play sparked a 7-0 run in which Vegas recorded three aces and Holmes two kills and the Longhorns pulled away.

Senior Heather Nemiec’s consecutive kills finished off a 25-16 victory and squared the match.

“I never got too comfortable after that first game,” Dahlman said. “You know a team as good as Basalt is going to react, get angry, pull themselves together and make a plan to stop the mistakes.

“It was a teeter-totter out there, just like last time.”

Aspen squandered a 2-1 lead during an epic five-game showdown Sept. 19 in Basalt. The Skiers lost the deciding game, 17-15.

Dahlman remembered how hard his players took that loss. He said they were determined not to let it happen again Tuesday.

“It was tough on them,” Dahlman said. “They thought the win was theirs. It was hands-down the most emotional I’ve ever seen them.

“After Game 2 [Tuesday], they were fired up. They all said they wanted to win this in four.”

Aspen took a step toward that goal with another fast start in Game 3. Evans recorded two of her four aces and assisted on a block as the Skiers won six of the first eight points. They capitalized on three consecutive Basalt mistakes to open up a 17-12 advantage.

The Longhorns spoiled two game points after Soucie’s dump and Holmes’ kill was blocked out of bounds, but Walter killed a perfect feed from Westerlind to give Aspen a one-game cushion.

The teams shared the lead eight times at Game 4’s outset before Westerlind and Evans teamed on a block and Walter finished one of her team-high 14 kills to give the Skiers a 21-16 edge. Westerlind drilled a ball through an attempted block and down the middle to seal the 25-19 win and match victory.

“This is a gut check,” Drozd said. “Nothing was going right. We have a lot of work to do in the next week and a half.”

Westerlind finished with 19 assists, 13 digs and 11 kills. Crandall added 11 digs, and Kelly and Walter each blocked eight shots.

“It’s the best thing in the world to beat Basalt,” Westerlind said.

“This team doesn’t give up,” Evans added. “This is such a huge win. It sets the tone for the rest of the season.”

The Skiers won just three games in 2007. Now, they’re preparing for the postseason.

It’s been a season filled with high points ” none more significant than Tuesday, Dahlman said.

“I’m looking at a entirely different team right now,” he added. “It’s been such a huge turnaround. … I showed the girls they had the tools to do it.

“They were broken down [after Sept. 19’s game]. I’m sure they’re feeling great right now.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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