Unfamiliarity paid off for Lovell.
Of the four eastern representatives in the Class 2A field of the Wyoming State High School Championships, the only team the Bulldogs didn't see during the regular season was Southeast. But that didn't faze Lovell one bit on Thursday, as the Bulldogs earned a 3-0 (25-19, 29-27, 25-17) quarterfinal sweep against the Cyclones at the Casper Events Center.
"We weren't really worried about them so much," Lovell coach Stormy Jameson said, "as much as executing ... our game."
But for a second consecutive year, Lovell swept Southeast out of the first round of the state tournament. The victory moves Lovell into today's semifinal round, against a familiar foe in Wright.
The Panthers, the defending state champs, dropped a long first set to Shoshoni in their quarterfinal match but won three straight to earn the 3-1 victory (28-30, 25-16, 25-14, 25-13). Similar to Lovell, Wright coach Wenett Martin said the team didn't have a lot of knowledge on the Wranglers, but knew there were facing a good team that had state tournament experience and wouldn't give Wright easy points on errors.
The Panthers did that in the first set, as Shoshoni's first lead came at 28-27 en route to the 30-28 victory. Then the Panthers saw a 16-7 lead shrink to just three points in the second set, before Wright circled the wagons and closed out Shoshoni 25-16 in the second set to take control.
"We just kind of talked it out," Panthers senior Brittany Belt said. "Just try to forget about the last error and focus on the next ball."
Martin credited her two middles -- freshman Chantal Lawrence and junior Kiley Segelke -- with controlling the net the final three sets. Belt is the Panthers' only senior, and the team has six freshmen on the roster. Today's semifinal meeting will be a rematch of last year's state title game, which Wright won 3-0.
"We've just got to play ball," Martin said.
Thermopolis survived a five-set marathon for a 3-2 (25-20, 27-25, 26-28, 13-25, 15-10) victory against Tongue River. The Bobcats and Eagles had two of the middle sets going into extra points, but it was Thermopolis sophomore Haylee Hoffman who had the match-clinching tip. Hoffman said the team's eight seniors make the Bobcats go.
"They're our core," Hoffman said. "We backed 'em up, that's what we had to do."
Big Horn, the East Regional Champions, swept Kemmerer in the final quarterfinal and will draw Thermopolis in one of today's semifinal matches. The Bobcats lost to the Rams 3-1 during the regular season, but that was down three starters.
"We're definitely a better team," Hoffman said.
And like Thermopolis, Lovell is excited to get another chance at a team it's faced in the past.
"We definitely want some revenge [today]," Jameson said. "That's the plan, anyway."