Aspen edges Cardinals in volleyball opener |

Aspen edges Cardinals in volleyball opener

ASPEN, Colorado ” Opening nights are often not spectacular, and Clay Dahlman’s debut at his old high school as the new varsity volleyball coach certainly fell into that category.

There were a plenty of forgettable moments in Aspen’s season opener against Grand Valley on Thursday, although what will be remembered is this: Dahlman and the Skiers got off to a winning start.

Aspen didn’t come out strong, but came through when it mattered most, rallying from an opening game loss and then a 2-1 deficit to down the visiting Cardinals in five games (23-25, 25-19, 23-25, 25-12, 15-8).

The Skiers looked to be in control of the match in the third game, but faltered during the stretch run, blowing a 23-20 lead when communication broke down. Facing elimination, Aspen played its best volleyball in the fourth game, serving up nine unreturned balls in a 25-12 blowout.

Aspen carried that momentum into the clinching fifth game.

“This team is a team that I believe in,” said Dahlman, who arrives at Aspen after a one-year stint at defending 3A Western Slope champion Basalt. “We saw that we can do some really nice things today, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. As a coach, I realize that it was a win but it wasn’t a win the easiest way.

“We’ve got to get back to the drawing board.”

First-year Cardinals coach Dave Walck said he couldn’t have been more proud of his team, in spite of the loss. Despite middling results in 2A, the Cardinals moved up to 3A this season, and Walck said his players proved a lot to him and themselves Thursday night.

“What we’ve accomplished in two weeks, three weeks, I feel like we’ve grown a lot,” he said. “I was worried about tonight. Last night we were in a drill where we were passing free balls at 40 percent. … I’m proud of them for how they responded tonight. It’s a five-game match and, you know, both teams were presented situations that were beneficial to both sides I think.” When Dahlman does go back to the drawing board with his team, he’ll have to take into consideration Aspen’s slow starts in the first three games. Grand Valley took a 4-1 lead in the first game, and 5-1 leads in the second and third.

Aspen rallied nicely in the second game behind the strong passing and hitting of seniors Kylie Westerlind and Elissa Walter, only to regress in the third game.

“We’ve got to improve on the passing so that we can create some plays,” Dahlman said. “But you saw how dangerous we can be when we can get our pass to the setter and when we can get the ball down on a pretty regular basis.”

Walter led all scorers with 15 kills to go with four aces. Westerlind had 10 kills of her own and led the Skiers in assists. Senior Katy Evans added nine kills and three aces and Rio Crandall had five aces.

“I think that one of the things I take away from tonight is just how much us coming together as a team and really playing our roles and really working together and being positive helped us win,” Walter said. “I think the teams were pretty evenly matched and with us just working together and keeping the pressure on and not letting up, I don’t know, I think that’s how we pulled out a win.”

Junior Karmen Steimel led the Cardinals with seven kills and six blocks. Sam James and Erin Vanderpool each had six kills and junior Caitlyn Brady had five blocks. Senior setter Brittany Garcia led the team with 30 assists.

Aspen (1-0) next plays at 1 p.m. Saturday at 4A Glenwood Springs.

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