Palisade tops Glenwood Springs for district volleyball title

Audrey Steinkirchner, right, celebrates Saturday after a kill with teammates Shannon Rhodes, middle, and Tahverle Hodges during the Bulldogs’ win over Sand Creek. Palisade later won the district title over Glenwood Springs.

Palisade had played 14 sets of volleyball already Saturday, and was only one away from capturing the district title.

The Bulldogs (19-4) had just lost a nail-biting fourth set 26-24 to Glenwood Springs and the crowd was silent. But the Western Slope League champions, a team built around star senior Audrey Steinkirchner, benefited from an unlikely hero.

Junior Courtney Clark doesn’t show up a lot on the stat sheet, but coach Wendy MacAskill rode Clark’s special skill to a 9-0 lead and eventual 15-8 victory in a five-set district championship.

“She’s the most consistent server on our team,” MacAskill said. “We’ve used her in game five situations before and she gave us the start we needed to close out the game.”

Clark’s approach was simple.

“The only thing I was thinking was ‘Get it in,’ ” she said. “I knew that would help us, and the serve is the first part of play.”

Palisade had an up and down championship match, but managed to squeak out the win 25-22, 14-25, 25-12, 24-26, 15-8 after beating Glenwood Springs 3-1 earlier in the day.

“It’s unbelievable to win this title on our home court,” MacAskill said. “It came right down to the wire and the girls wouldn’t have had it any other way. They fought and clawed their way to the win.”

Palisade’s journey to the district championship started earlier in the day, when they swept Summit 3-0 and beat Glenwood Springs. They then faced Sand Creek, where Steinkirchner emphatically stated her dominance early, with four kills and an ace for five of Palisade’s first six points.

Palisade slowed up, but never trailed by more than two until Sand Creek extended it to 23-19, but that lead didn’t last. Six unanswered points gave Palisade the first game 25-23.

Palisade righted the ship in the second set, and shifted the momentum further to its side. The Bulldogs never trailed and cruised to a 25-18 victory to go up 2-0.

Palisade completed the sweep without trailing, but still had to stave off a late-match comeback by Sand Creek. After Palisade extended its lead to nine points, Sand Creek closed the gap to three in an attempt to extend its season, but Palisade shut the door, winning 25-21.

The second semifinal featured Delta and Glenwood Springs.  Each squad was responsible for one of Palisade’s two conference losses, and the two squads battled out a five-game thriller that Glenwood Springs won 25-21, 22-25, 25-22, 23-25, 15-9.

Not even a half hour after barely beating Delta, Glenwood Springs was faced with top-seeded Palisade.

Palisade fell behind 10-7 early in the first game, and let the Demons hang around when three errors in a row put Glenwood up 16-13. The Bulldogs drew even at 19-19 and after Jenny Thibodeau recorded a kill, they never looked back.

The Bulldogs struggled early when Steinkirchner rotated to the back row. Glenwood Springs had four kills in a row, and took an 11-5 lead. That lead evaporated when Steinkirchner found her way back to the front and contributed a block and two kills for her team’s next three points. The next time she rotated back row, however, Glenwood once again seized control, going up 22-13 and hanging on for the win.

Palisade rebounded in the third game, taking a 12-5 lead that carried over to the fourth set.

The Bulldogs benefited from six Glenwood errors in the first 20 points, and took an 11-9 lead. Glenwood overtook Palisade 12-11, and Palisade couldn’t quite come back, losing by two.

Palisade clinched the district title when senior Mecia Dearth slammed a kill on the final point.

“We pushed through exhaustion and pushed through adversity,” Steinkirchner said. “Speaking as a senior, this is what we work all four years for, to win this. It’s one step on the way to regionals.”


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