Volleyball Invite

Cheyenne East’s Duquesne Moratzka blocks against Rock Springs on Sept. 22 during the Casper Invite.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

The dynasty may be on the ropes.

For the first time since 2013 Cheyenne East will not enter the Class 4A East Regional volleyball tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Thunderbirds will, however, continue their run into the state tournament by receiving the No. 2 seed and an automatic berth no matter their results at regionals.

Cheyenne East limps into regionals, having lost three of its last four matches. That’s significantly different than the T-Birds (27-8, 7-4) who started out the year 20-2.

“We have some phenomenal leaders,” head coach Nicole Quigley said. “We have both of our setters and that same core back, then Jazzy (Espinoza), our middle blocker, she’s playing all the way around this year. They all do a really great job of leading the team.”

Quigley isn’t a new face on the East bench, but she is in a more prominent role now. An assistant under former head coach Dan Box for eight years, Quigley was named head coach after Box stepped down in January.

The program was just coming off its third consecutive state championship but entered the season without three of its key components and its head coach.

There were some wide glances during the first few days at practice this year.

“It’s an adjustment when you don’t have two, three 6-foot-2 girls on your front row,” Quigley said. “But we do have a lot of athletic girls that can adapt to different spots and make adjustments. Overall, I think we do a good job of working well together and filling those positions even though we’re not a big powerhouse up front.”

While three all-state selections departed to graduation, one remained.

Senior Duquesne Moratzka currently leads all of Class 4A in kills (4.5 per game with a 34.0 hitting percentage). She also ranks among the top 10 in digs (3.3 per game).

After a win in the Casper Invite last month, she compared starting out the season well with ending strong.

“I’d rather end the season good than start the season good,” she said, “I guess that I was happy, obviously, but it wasn’t that important to me. The other girls probably felt better about it.”

That was before the absence of senior Mackenzie Fagenbush started to take its toll.

One of the more important members of the T-Birds, Fagenbush tallied 74 kills and 146 total passes in just 32 matches this year. Cheyenne East has played in 71 so far.

“We had everything figured out and then Kenzee just threw a wrench in our plans by going and getting herself hurt,” Moratzka chuckled. “So now we have to refigure everything and get people confident in their positions and it’s just harder. It’s obviously not where we wanted to be, but we’re going to deal with it and see how it goes.”

East has very little time to remedy its woes.

The T-Birds will play either Cheyenne Central, Gillette, Sheridan or Thunder Basin on Saturday for state seeding. Two of their last three losses have come to Sheridan and Gillette.

For the last three seasons it was as if East volleyball was invincible. So, while most programs would love to enjoy the same amount of success the T-Birds have had in 2017, this season seems like a disappointment.

However, despite losing multi-year all-state selections and a five-time state champion head coach, East still found a way into the state tournament where anything can happen.

“We play every game the same against any team regardless,” Quigley said. “Whether it’s the championship game at state or if it’s the conference game that may not be the toughest team to play against.

“But come out with the same mentality every game and try to play it point by point. If we do that then we’ll be successful.”

Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @Brady_CST

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Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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