Skiers winless no more in Western Slope
After two weeks and five straight road losses, the Aspen Skiers limped home Saturday, still searching for consistency and an elusive first conference victory.There’s no place like home. As a raucous crowd looked on at a packed Skier Dome, Aspen defeated Olathe in four games, 3-1. The performance even garnered a celebratory cheer from usually-reserved coach Sarah Benson.”We came in this season with a brand new team and only three returning starters, so we didn’t know what to expect this year,” Benson said. “We go into each game to play our best and if we win, we win. This is very exciting and it’s nice not to have to travel for once.”The road odyssey began following Aspen’s home loss to Hotchkiss Sept. 16. Six losses later – four to conference foes – the Skiers struggled to find the consistency that propelled them to a 3-1 record to open the season. They thought they may have found the answers Friday night in Carbondale, but walked away teary-eyed and empty-handed after a draining five-set loss to the Rams.The young Skiers – only three seniors are on the roster – showed their resiliency early Saturday, taking game one in impressive fashion, 25-16. Trailing 5-3 to the Pirates early, Aspen reeled off seven straight points, capped by consecutive aces off the palm of junior Haley Ortman. After the Pirates (1-5, 3-8) answered with eight straight to take the 13-10 lead, Benson took Aspen’s first timeout. Whatever Benson said she should commit to memory for Aspen’s final stretch of the season. The Skiers responded, winning 12 of the next 13 points to take command of the game, 22-14. Junior Kyla Walter sealed the Game 1 win with a block at the net.”I just reminded them that they were doing a good job finding the holes and were moving well on defense,” Benson said. “I just tried to encourage them.”Aspen (4-7, 1-4) would need the encouragement from Benson and the crowd as they battled Olathe serve-for-serve in Game 2. Countless passing shots sailed wide and the miscommunication that plagued Aspen on the road resurfaced. The Skiers worked hard to remain focused despite the miscues, battling back to tie the score 10 different times.Trailing 25-24, the Skiers spoiled consecutive Pirates game points. The first came on a service error by Olathe’s Reshaunda Evans and the second on a kill by Haley Ortmann that tied the score at 26. After Evans killed the next point, Junior Megan Raczak made a valiant effort to block the next shot, but it glanced off her fingertips and onto the hardwood, squaring the match.Aspen won the first two games of Friday’s match only to see its lead fade as frustration and fatigue set in. They could have experienced a similar let-down, but instead chose Game 3 to make its most definitive statement of the match. The Skiers jumped out to a 10-5 lead and following a Pirates timeout – and some more words of wisdom from Benson – unleashed its service game to finish on a 15-4 run, winning 25-9. “In that game, we really showed our potential,” Raczak said.Raczak had four consecutive aces during the run, using pace and precise positioning to throw off the Olathe defense. The Pirates hit multiple balls into the net, and were deeked on a handful of Skiers drop shots.Aspen closed out Game 4 with another run – this time 13-7 following a 12-12 tie – to win the game, 25-19, and the match.Aspen had gone nearly a month in-between victories; it’s last came Sept. 3 against Hayden. The Skiers are 4-1 at home this season and undefeated in the Skier Dome. Because of a college fair in the main gym, the team played in the dome for the first time this season. The atmosphere was electric, Benson said.”The crowd was so close to the floor and I think the players fed off of it,” Benson said. “It was like old times.” In what Raczak deemed a roller-coaster of a season, it has been difficult to count on anything but inconsistency from the Skiers. The team’s level of mental focus seemingly shifts from game-to-game, sometimes during consecutive points.But when the Skiers are on – like they were Saturday – Raczak believes they can compete with anyone in the Slope. “We knew we were capable of playing like this,” Raczak said. “It’s nice to realize how to win again.” Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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