It seems like an eternity since Madison Hoopman’s freshman season. She was a promising new face on a state championship Douglas team that survived a first-round scare against Jackson to win the Class 3A state title.
A lot has changed since then.
Hoopman suffered a significant knee injury her sophomore season when her knee gave out during a summer basketball camp that sidelined her for volleyball and basketball season. She returned for her junior year among a number of leaders to win the Class 3A East Conference against an upstart Rawlins side. Douglas went to the state championship match before being swept by Star Valley.
Now, Hoopman is the only senior among a talented group of players. She hasn’t seen any drop in play despite the youth of the Bearcats (23-7, 6-0 Class 3A Northeast Conference).
“Honestly, I don’t really notice it that much because they came in with so much confidence and so much wanting to be on the court that I feel like they just fit right in,” Hoopman said last month at the Casper Invite. “We have freshmen through seniors on the court and it feels like we’re all seniors.”
Douglas started the season 6-0 before playing Class 4A powers Kelly Walsh and Laramie on the same day.
The Bearcats learned a lot from those two losses, immediately defeating Cheyenne South the next day. Douglas later forced Cheyenne East to a decisive third set at the Casper Invite. The next day they swept Natrona County.
“It kind of just feels like another match,” Hoopman said of playing 4A teams. “I kind of look at it as. ‘The divisions are divided by school size, not talent.’ So we can go out there and compete, no matter who’s out there on the court. Try to compete with them, go out there and do our best.”
Returning with Hoopman is junior Haedyn Rhoades. Both are two-time all-state selections.
Through camps and summer workouts, the two helped bring their teammates up to speed. They also helped make the other Bearcats feel comfortable on the court.
Some of them watched their siblings play on that same court years before and were just waiting for their own opportunity.
“We had a great summer, we had a lot of young kids who were just so happy to be on the court because they had waited their turn and they’re so excited to play that it’s been really good,” head coach Angela Rhoades said. “They’re just a good team chemistry group. They support each other and they love each other.”
Added Hoopman: “We love being together and with each other and so I think every time we step on the court we feel good because we’re together.”
The team bonded even more as the Bearcats decided to wear white ribbons throughout the month of September as well as pre-game shirts that had #StellaStrong written on them. This referenced Stella Beard, niece of Douglas sophomore Emma Saunders, who died of a rare form of pediatric brain cancer at the age of 3.
Stella’s 3-month battle with the illness brought the community of Douglas together.
“She has brought that kind of into us and her family has been super-connected with us and we just want to do all that we can because of what they went through,” Hoopman said. “But not only them, a bunch of other families in our community have gone through the same thing.
“We want to be able to support and show that we care about you as much as you care about us because we see them at every single game, they love us and we just love them.”
Despite injuries, graduation and numerous uncontrollable factors, Douglas volleyball has been a constant.
That’s a credit to head coach Rhoades and the work ethic each team has during practice.
“We have girls who are willing to get after it in practice,” Rhoades said.
Hoopman was one of those players who stepped in immediately at practice and became a force in 2014. It feels like an eternity since then.
But through injury and tragedy, she’s the last one standing from that championship team. Now, she’s hoping to lead her team to the top again.
“I definitely think that we need to just keep working on everything and just sharpen some things up,” Hoopman said. “I think that we have so much more potential to reach.”