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MEEKER I “We started our journey at 5:30 a.m. on the bus and returned home at 11:30 p.m.,” Meeker High School volleyball coach Christy Atwood said about the district tournament held last Saturday in Oak Creek. Coach Atwood wasn’t complaining, since they returned as district champions.
Meeker, Rangely, Hayden and No. 1 seeded Paonia played each other in the district tournament to determine the top two teams to advance to the regional tournament to be held this Saturday in Palisade. All of the matches but one needed five games to determine a winner, extending the day and increasing the anticipation, as an outcome would not be decided until the final match was played. When it finished, Meeker owned the district title, Rangely finished second, Hayden third and Paonia fourth.
Showing the league’s parity, Meeker won two matches and lost one, as did Rangely. Meeker beat Hayden and Rangely and lost to Paonia, Rangely beat Hayden and Paonia and lost to Meeker and Hayden beat Paonia in the final match of the tournament to advance the Rio Blanco County teams to the regional tournament. Had Hayden lost to Paonia, Meeker and Rangely would have played a game to 25 to determine which team would join Paonia at the regional tourney as the No. 2 seed.
“At the end of the regular season, we were all within one win of each other,” Atwood said of the regular season standings.
Meeker opened the tournament against Hayden, a team they had not played since the first of the season.
“We beat them (3-0) at home early in the season but they have been on a winning streak lately and were the only team to beat Vail Christian (Vail Christian won the league, but play in 1A playoffs),” Atwood said of the lady Tigers.
Meeker lost the first match 22-25, but won the second 25-19 and the third 25-11 before forcing a fifth game with a 14-25 loss in the fourth game.
“We have played a lot of five-game matches and I will always bet on my team because they never give up, ever,” Atwood said. “They may have one or two bad plays but will get back to the game plan and battle back, they’ve done it all season.”
Meeker had a two-match break before playing Paonia, two hours later than scheduled, and the lady Cowboys had a difficult time getting into a rhythm.
“We were never able to get in front and stay in front,” Atwood said of the match against the Eagles.
Meeker lost the first game 18-25, then won the second 25-20 before losing 26-28 and 16-25 in the fourth game.
Meeker got about a 15 minute break before taking on county rival, Rangely, which was looking to put the tournament away with a win after winning its first two.
“We regrouped and dug our heels in and once we decided the direction we were headed, we had total buy-in from the team,” Atwood said. “The Rangely match was long, we had played nine games and Rangely had played 10. It was not the best match to watch and came down to fundamentals and who created or committed the fewest mistakes would win. We just hung in there.”
Meeker lost the first game to Rangely 18-25, then won the second 25-17 before losing the third 16-25.
“I was starting to doubt our stamina in the fourth, then we got a big momentum shift with some good defensive stops, got our third wind and saw light at the end of the tunnel,” Atwood said of the 25-22 win in the fourth game. “I felt that the fourth game helped our momentum in the fifth.” Which Meeker won 15-10.
“All 12 players played and all did an incredible job,” Atwood said. “Everyone understands their roles and have done a great job doing them. It has been fun the past couple of weeks to watch this team morph into where we are at today.”
Meeker and Rangely will now advance to the regional tournament for pool play against Mancos and Telluride, where the top two teams will qualify for the state tournament the following week in Denver.