With confidence, and ability, beyond most No. 4 seeds, Gillette took a 6-2 lead in the first set over West No. 1 seed Kelly Walsh.
But, in the blink of an eye, the Trojans showed why they haven’t lost in over a month.
Kelly Walsh went on a 9-1 run and continued to score powerful, timely points on its way to a clean sweep of Gillette (25-16, 25-17, 25-14) on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Wyoming State High School Volleyball Championships at the Casper Events Center.
“We were just wanting to get out here and play and get the jitters out,” Kelly Walsh head coach Jeff Barkell said. “Everybody’s nervous when you get here. We just talked about the fact that anybody here has a chance to win it. Everybody is going to compete hard and we had to make sure that was our mentality.”
The Trojans did that with characteristic depth and selflessness.
Senior Jill Phipps scored a huge block in the first set to gain the serve. Senior Maddison Dedic scored a vicious kill on the ensuing point. Gillette called a timeout only to be on the receiving end of a Corin Carruth kill the following rally.
Kelly Walsh took care of business in short order for the right to face Thunder Basin, which played in one of the more competitive matches of the tournament’s first day.
The Bolts seized the momentum early only to see Green River rally to win the third set. Thunder Basin was finally able to put it away but not without expelling a lot of effort (25-23, 25-23, 23-25, 25-23).
Just like the Trojans, Thunder Basin faced adversity head-on.
“That’s what teams that compete for championships do,” Barkell said. “They compete hard all the time and when the other team challenges you, you step up and challenge them back.”
Meanwhile, the Trojans’ cross-town rival Natrona County fell to three-time defending state champion Cheyenne East, despite sending a decent scare into the Thunderbirds.
With standout Mackenzee Fagenbush still bothered by an ankle injury and forced to stay on the back line, senior Duquesne Moratska stepped in to deliver emphatic kills against the Fillies.
Natrona County won the second set and hung tough in the third and fourth, but could not mount another winning rally.
“We played good and that’s a great team,” NC head coach Michael Botkin said. “There’s a reason they are the three-time defending state champion. They earned it and we didn’t, plain and simple.”
The loss was especially difficult to swallow for seniors Kristy Dick, Emilie Fittjie, Bre Kelly, Kylie Watson and Leland Mooren, all of whom had their shining moments against the T-Birds.
East will play Laramie in the semifinals after the Plainsmen swept Evanston with a little more trouble than most anticipated (25-23, 26-24, 25-20).
“I can’t tell you why they are this way,” Laramie head coach Rebecca Baker, “but when that pressure comes on, that is when this team comes alive.”