It wasnt the perfect way to end a season or a college career, but the Fort Lewis College volleyball teams seniors said their four-set loss Friday night was pretty great nonetheless.
In its final match of the year, FLC fell to Adams State College 26-24, 27-25, 20-25 and 25-17 in a senior-night match chock full of heart and hard play.
It was a great way to finish, senior Heather Bryant said. To have our entire team put it all out there was a great way to go out.
From the get-go, Fort Lewis (5-21, 2-16 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) proved Friday wouldnt be anything like its sloppy and emotionless three-set loss to Western New Mexico on Tuesday by bringing an energy to the court that jump-started the Skyhawks to a 16-6 lead over a lackluster Grizzlies team in the first set and sent the crowd and Skyhawk squad alike soaring.
The lead, however, didnt last.
Adams State (17-8, 11-6) found its rhythm, remembered how to pass, then roared back to take the first set 26-24; the opening game set the tone for the remainder of the match.
Thats the kind of match Id like to go out on, Fort Lewis head coach Shelly Aaland said.
Even after a crushing first-set comeback, both teams came out swinging and diving in the second set on the way to another close finish.
After trading the lead back-and-forth late into the set, the Grizzlies went up 26-25 with the help of Bayfield High School graduate Gabriella Rifilato, then tallied a second win on the night with a quick serving ace against a Skyhawk squad still trying to get set, unready for play.
Aaland said she hated to lose on what she saw as poor officiating rather than on the merit of her girls.
In addition to not giving the Skyhawks an adequate amount of time to get set for that game-point serve, Aaland said difficult officiating caused problems for her squad all night.
Setter Ciara Krening, who came into Fridays match with just 13 hitting violations on the season, was called for 10 alone against Adams.
Ultimately, though, Aaland blamed the loss on the same struggles her young squad has had all year: finishing matches.
Not finishing didnt mean giving up, though. In the third set, the Skyhawks scored a tight but decisive victory, aided by a .026 hitting percentage by the Grizzlies.
Strong defensive play at the net throughout the match each team put down nine blocks and on the court each tallied more than 50 digs made for an exciting if error-laden spectacle.
Overall, the Skyhawks were slightly more accurate with an overall hitting percentage of .180, compared to the Grizzlies .142, but even that wasnt enough to send the match to a fifth set. The Skyhawks finally disintegrated in the fourth set, something Adams State head coach Lindy Mortensen said she was thankful for.
Fort Lewis is a good team; theyre young, Mortensen said. We made a little run in that fourth game ... it was a good thing.
Nevertheless, roommates and self-described best friends Wilson, a Durango High School alumnus, and Bryant said they wouldnt have wanted to leave FLC any other way or with any other team.
Both girls had a big night on the stat pages probably the best of their careers, Bryant said.
Bryant led the defense with 12 digs, tying libero Hannah Starbuck for a match high.
Ashley Wells had 11 digs for the Skyhawks.
Wilson had nine digs and led the Skyhawks on offense with 17 kills and a team-high .333 hitting percentage.
Wells had 16 kills.
What a great way for them to finish, Aaland said of her seniors.
Despite their strong performances, both Bryant and Wilson, who received flowers and framed commemorative jerseys between the second and third sets, said they couldnt have succeeded without their teammates, whom Bryant said bought in and left their hearts on the court Friday.
And although they didnt walk away with the win or even an impressive season record, Bryant and Wilson said this years squad has been their favorite group to top off their volleyball careers.
Its been a great four years, Bryant said. I wouldnt want to have it any other way.
Nope, Wilson said.