Skiers top Gunnison in five games |

Skiers top Gunnison in five games

Haley Ortmann goes down to dig a ball Friday during a home match against Gunnison. The Skiers outlasted the Cowboys in five games, 15-25, 25-17, 13-25, 25-22, 15-13. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

It would’ve been easy for Aspen volleyball to lay down at home Friday against Gunnison. In fact, a loss would’ve improved the Skiers’ chances of securing a berth in the 3A state playoffs.The team’s pride, however, took precedence. The Skiers (13-5 overall, 9-4 3A Western Slope), with Basalt coach Dave Drozd in the stands enthusiastically cheering them on, outlasted the Cowboys in a fifth game, 15-13. By virtue of Aspen’s win, the Longhorns (16-1, 11-1) took over sole possession of first in the Western Slope title. With a win today against Cedaredge, Basalt will clinch the league title and a guaranteed spot at state, regardless of its showing at districts next weekend. Had Aspen won, there would have been no outright Slope winner (Basalt and Gunnison split their season series), and two playoff berths would be up for grabs next weekend. Losing Friday simply was not an option, Skiers head coach Matt Bergdahl said.

“We would’ve been better off had we lost, but there was no way we were going to lie down,” he said. “We have pride, and confidence we can go into districts and beat Gunnison.”We made Dave a happy man.”Gunnison (16-2, 11-2), which lost for the first time all season Saturday in Basalt, jumped out to a quick 5-2 lead in the deciding game after a few untimely Aspen miscues. The Skiers capitalized on two Cowboys errors – an errant dig and a serve into the net – to cut the lead to one and force a Gunnison timeout.Two Aspen miscues later, Bergdahl had to burn a timeout to calm his players and halt the Cowboys’ momentum. The strategy paid instant dividends, when Aspen, sparked by a strong kill from senior Brittany Zanin, won five of the next six points to erase the deficit and take a one-point lead. The two teams continued to battle and were knotted at 10. The Skiers then turned to Kyla Walter. The senior responded.”I like that pressure,” Walter said. “We all have our nights, but tonight we were passing the ball well, and I was getting the ball in good position.”

Walter won a battle with a Gunnison defender at the net on the ensuing point to give her team the lead – one they would never relinquish. Following a lift by a Cowboys player, Walter soared above the net for a kill that ricocheted off a defender and sailed out of play. She spiked another shot moments later to give Aspen the 14-12 lead. The Skiers, who fell, 3-1, during their previous meeting with Gunnison, clinched the game and the match when a Cowboys serve hit the middle of the net.Drozd could finally exhale.”This was way more stressful than watching from the bench,” he said. “God, I love Aspen right now. They’re just as good as we are, and today they proved it. Now, everything is in our hands. Everything is on the line [today].”Aspen, which dropped the first (25-10), and third (25-13) games, let a 10-point lead in Game 4 evaporate. Gunnison, which trailed, 20-10, fought all the way back to knot the game at 21. After Walter’s shot sailed wide on the next play, the Cowboys took an improbable lead. But Aspen, which responded to pressure the entire match, went on a 4-0 run to clinch a 25-22 win.

“You have to toss that game out and start fresh,” Bergdahl said. “If you don’t, you’re done. The girls really put that behind them.”The Skiers, aware of the benefit a loss would have given them, chose not to give the game away. “That’s not the mentality you want to have,” Walter said. “We all knew [the circumstances], but we decided to go for it.” As a result, seven of the Slope’s eight teams will vie for one state playoff spot next weekend.”Without any pressure, it really gave our girls the chance to show what they could do,” Bergdahl said. “Now we can go to districts with a lot of confidence. It’s going to be intense and tough, but I like tough.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is

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