During Wyoming’s annual fall sports media day in the Wildcatter Suites of War Memorial Stadium, Cowgirls volleyball coach Chad Callihan proudly stood at the podium and talked about Wyoming’s non-conference schedule. It was the highest RPI the program has ever been able to schedule, he told those in attendance. That’s to help the Cowgirls’ postseason chances.
“We’ve knocked on the door the last few years of trying to make the NCAA Tournament and in order to do that we’ve got to be able to go out and schedule some tough opponents in the non-conference,” Callihan said. “It doesn’t do us a whole lot of good to rack up wins if they’re not going to be teams that compete at the highest level and aren’t going to help us build a resume. We need teams that will help us do that.”
Weeks later Callihan, the Cowgirls and over 1,000 fans at Cheyenne East High School were left rattled when Nebraska-Kearney crossed the border and beat Wyoming last Saturday, 3-1 (25-23, 25-19, 23-25, 25-22). Just like the last two seasons, the Cowgirls were good and came close, but simply weren’t good enough.
The last two seasons the Cowgirls finished shy of the NCAA Tournament and settled for consecutive berths in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship. This year they hope to take the next step. And Callihan believes they have the depth to prove they are.
“I think this is one of the deeper teams that we’ve had and I think that bodes well for us throughout the year,” Callihan said. “I think we have the ability to look down the bench on a certain night when someone may be having an off night and make a sub or make a change and actually get a lift from that. I’m not so sure that’s always been the case.”
Four seniors and three juniors highlight the Cowgirls’ roster this season. That includes senior outside hitter Halie McArdle and senior libero Madi Fields, both of whom Callihan pointed to as cornerstones of this year’s team.
“I think they have a really solid opportunity to step forward for us and have a great senior year,” he said.
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Callihan also mentioned some that didn’t play as big of a part last year but will broaden their scope this fall. Junior middle blocker Faith Waitsman earned a specific shout-out for her early-season performances.
All three of those specifically named by Callihan have already shown their importance. McArdle played just two sets in the exhibition loss and still put away 10 kills. Fields played in all four sets and led the team with 26 digs. Waitsman also played in all four sets and put up eight kills and three assisted blocks. Promising sophomore KC McMahon led the Cowgirls with 12 kills and senior outside hitter Tara Traphagan reinforced why she’s so valuable by adding 11 kills of her own.
Those names blending together bodes well for the cohesion on the team that Callihan spoke highly of.
“Not to take anything away from teams in the past but from top to bottom this team really enjoys the game, they love to play it and they love playing each other,” he said. “I think when you have a group with similar goals that makes it easier to work together. They are able to challenge each other, but in that challenge they aren’t offended if someone gets by them. They understand that at the end of the day this group’s just trying to be the best they can be.”
Callihan told reporters that he took positives out of the exhibition loss. While a loss isn’t wanted among a competitive team, more serious eyes turned toward this weekend’s season-opening tournament in Boulder, Colorado. Wyoming plays host Colorado in its season-opening match at the Buffs Invitational at 6 p.m. on Friday before playing Santa Barbara on Saturday. Long Island-Brooklyn then comes to Laramie for the home opener at the UniWyo Sports Complex on Monday at 6:30 p.m.
Last Saturday’s exhibition loss may have been frustrating at times. But losses happen among a schedule as tough as the Cowgirls’ non-conference slate. They walk into this weekend with a clean slate, a chance to start over and a chance to be better together.