The Hotchkiss volleyball team didn't make it to Saturday's district finals at Grand Valley High School, but the team still had much to celebrate. Friday's 3-1 tournament win over the Hayden Tigers meant more than just a win. It marked the program's first district tournament appearance, its first district win, and the first year the Bulldogs didn't have to play a pigtail game since 2009.
First-year head coach Peter Nethington called the season an overall success. "We met all our goals," said Nethington. "We wanted to win more games than we won last year, we wanted to get to districts, and we wanted to win at districts. We did all of that."
Their 10-11 overall, 6-6 conference record also marked the best win-loss record since 2009. Three of those losses occurred at a second-week, best-of-three-sets tournament. Had they been five-set matches, any of those losses could have easily gone the other way, said Nethington.
Hotchkiss's 3-0 district loss to Rangely, the number one seed in the district, marked the end of the season. "Nothing to be ashamed of," said Nethington. The girls matched up well against Rangely. Several times throughout the match they were tied or within one or two points of the Panthers. In the second set the Bulldogs twice held the lead against the top seed.
"Rangely's a tough school. They don't give up anything easily," said Nethington.
Hotchkiss will lose five talented seniors -- Ashley Ziemer, Yasmine Gaub, Morgan Miller, Fatima Rodriguez and Jordan Tamayo, who was benched the entire season after a knee surgery.
Out of all the teams in the league, Rangely's always been the one that has the most sportsmanship, and the two teams are close, said Miller, the starting setter. "We're definitely really happy for them, but it was a hard loss."
Its season record and level of play reflect well on the team, and also on the school, said Miller. Looking back to her sophomore year, "We barely won, and I remember looking out into the crowd and not really seeing anybody there."
This year was different, said Miller. The crowds were much bigger, and the teachers and staff came out to the bus the morning of the tournament to wish them good luck. "It made me think that we made the school believe in us again," she said.
"I'm really proud of our team overall," said Ziemer. The last few years were a struggle, "And this is the year we finally turned things around... People now go out of their way to watch us, and not just watch us because they're there already. It's really cool."
The two seniors gave a lot of credit to their new coach. "I think he's really turned things around for us," said Ziemer.
It wasn't like they did things differently or worked harder, said Miller. They were at the bottom and their new coach told them that the past didn't matter to him. They were going to win this season. He brought them together, unified them, and made them believe in themselves. "He made us a family again, and we finally had someone who really believed in us... It makes all the difference," said Miller.
This season was "great," said Collins, a third-year varsity junior. "I've never been as proud of my team as this year." Collins led the team in kills with 156, service aces with 34, and is ranked fourth in the state in blocks. She's optimistic about her senior year. While they're losing "great" seniors, "We have so many great upper classmen coming up, and most of them already play varsity."
While players worked hard all season, Collins also gives Nethington a big chunk of credit for their success. "He taught us how to win," said Collins. Last year's coach was young and brought them as far as she could, said Collins. But Nethington and his years of experience in playing at the college level and coaching high school teams made all the difference.
Nethington plans to return next season and continue building on this year's success. "We have a really good core group," said Nethington. "We're right at a point where I think we can move on... and be better next year than we were this year. We want to look beyond the goals that we set and go completely higher."