With her younger teammates surrounding her in a post-game huddle, Madison Hoopman couldn’t contain herself anymore.
The only senior on a Douglas team that endured so much over the volleyball season, Hoopman spoke to her teammates one last time. Tears fell to the Casper Events Center mat.
She was forced to say goodbye to the group of 11 around her. The Bearcats’ dramatic 3-2 victory over Rawlins on Saturday night to win the 2017 Wyoming State High School Class 3A Volleyball Championships meant there were no more games left to be played.
She didn’t want the year to end. She didn’t want to stop playing volleyball with the team that melded together in the heat of adversity. All she could do was give them the sweetest farewell gift she could think of.
“They worked so hard,” Hoopman said of her teammates. “They have the best energy, the best attitude, the best attitude, I love every single one of them and it means so much to me because this is the best present I could give them as a senior.
“I’m just so happy I was able to be a part of that for them.”
Hoopman was a standout as a freshman when Douglas won its most recent state title in 2014. A torn ACL in the summer before her sophomore year sidelined her for the whole season. Last year she returned to guide Douglas to the championship match again, only to be swept by Star Valley.
She returned for her senior season and instilled leadership in her teammates, most of whom did not have any varsity experience.
“Madi has been such a great leader throughout the year,” junior Haedyn Rhoades said. “We really just wanted to get her another win. ...
“She did so good at leading our whole entire team. She brought us all together and we came out strong. We did it for her, we did it for all the girls on the team and we did it together and it was just great.”
Head coach Angela Rhoades has been a fixture at Douglas. Under her, the Bearcats have been a constant presence at the state tournament. She’s coached some of the best athletes in Wyoming volleyball history.
Yet, very few have been able to hold a candle to Hoopman. She suffered an ankle injury at regionals and after the quarterfinal victory she walked with a leaking ice pack tightly wrapped around her foot. She gave everything she could.
Immediately after the post-game handshakes, the head coach told the younger players to hug the senior.
“She has been an awesome senior,” coach Rhoades said. “We just have one but she took these little ducks in and loved them. She was the best senior ever because she was so nice to them and they always felt relaxed playing with her.”
Douglas needed to relax after Rawlins mounted a comeback in the third and fourth sets. The Lady Outlaws saw the second set fall away from them after all-state senior McKayla Earl injured her ankle. Earl left the game with a 20-18 lead, received treatment, and returned to the match with Douglas leading 22-21.
She, and sophomore Jordan Jerome helped Rawlins rally and force a decisive fifth set.
But Douglas knew about battling. Worland forced five sets in the semifinal just one day before. That was the first time all season Douglas had played a five-set match.
Junior setter Aubri Schuldies was diagnosed with compartment syndrome, a very rare and painful disease caused by tissue swelling or bleeding, during the season. The gold ribbons worn in their hair were for Stella Beard, the 3-year old who succumbed to childhood cancer and united a community.
The Bearcats needed each other through it all. They leaned on each other as they hurdled each obstacle.
“I could not do anything without them,” Hoopman said. “I wouldn’t even be able to practice because they make practice so fun. I cried so hard after it was over because I was sad I wouldn’t be able to be with them anymore.”
That’s when coach Rhoades told the rest of the team to say thank you to their only senior.
“They all just started crying because they don’t want her to be gone,” she said. “It was pretty special.”