Skiers spikers outlast Meeker in four games
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN ” Aspen and Meeker seemed destined for a fifth game.
With his team trailing 20-10 in the fourth game, Skiers coach Clayton Dahlman admittedly started scanning his roster and pondering what lineup he would send to the court to start the deciding game.
His team’s two-game advantage was a distant memory. And while he never lost faith, Dahlman wondered if Aspen was letting Thursday’s home match slip away.
“There were moments there in that fourth game when they checked out entirely,” the first-year coach said. “I told them to get it together, create some plays and to hit the ball more aggressively.”
The Skiers heeded those words. They scored five consecutive points and seven of eight after a timeout to pull to within four at 21-17. They squared the game after a Cowboys net violation. Minutes later, as some fans stood and others pounded on the gymnasium bleachers, Aspen pulled off the improbable: A 25-23 Game 4 win and a 3-1 match victory ” its third straight to open the season.
The Skiers had just three wins during a tumultuous 2007 season.
“There’s a lot more energy in the gym, not only from the crowd but from us,” senior Kylie Westerlind said. “We were in this together.”
There was plenty of drama to go around. The two teams shared the lead 10 times during a first game rife with mistakes. Aspen escaped with a 25-22 win when an attempted Meeker kill clipped the net.
The Skiers (3-0 overall, 1-0 3A Western Slope) had a much easier time in Game 2 after jumping out to a quick 10-0 lead. As Dahlman reclined in his chair, arms resting behind his head, senior Elissa Walter pounded the hardwood with consecutive kills off feeds from Westerlind, then a Cowboys’ cross sailed wide to clinch a 25-12 Aspen rout.
Meeker was down, but not out.
A sluggish Skiers squad squandered an early lead to open Game 3. Meeker later went on a 6-0 run punctuated by senior Meg Nieslanik’s kill down the middle to pull ahead, 18-11. They closed out the game with a 6-1 run ” five points came on unforced Aspen errors ” and cruised, 25-16.
“I knew Meeker was tall and had good blockers, and they really gave our hitters trouble,” Dahlman said. “The girls got on their heels, and when you do that it’s tough to get the momentum back.”
The Cowboys quieted the Skiers and the crowd with strong play to open the fourth. While Aspen struggled to string passes together, Meeker used its size to dominate the net. Nieslanik lined a kill past a diving Walter, then teammate Kelcy Brown tucked a shot into the back corner of the court to stretch the lead to 20-10.
Dahlman called his second timeout of the game.
“We did feel it slipping, but we knew we didn’t need to let it go,” Westerlind said. “This is a different team than last year.”
Katy Evans converted a kill, Rio Crandall picked up an ace and Arielle Shipe alertly and accurately dropped a shot in between Meeker defenders on consecutive plays after the timeout. Aspen asserted itself at the net, generating multiple Cowboys miscues.
Brown’s kill attempt hit the center of the net, sealing an Aspen win.
No fifth game necessary.
“Last year, in the couple of [Aspen] matches I saw, they didn’t seem to have the fight, the willingness or the drive to come back when they were down,” Dahlman said. “This proves there’s a real different mentality this year. … On the other side, we have to fight even when we’re up.”
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This is the 53rd Aspen Ruggerfest, a year delayed after the 2020 tournament was canceled. It’s one of the country’s most prestigious and longest-running tournaments of its kind still left and draws in high-level players from all over the world.