For the most part, the Wyoming high school volleyball landscape has had a familiar look to it the past few years.
In Class 4A, Kelly Walsh (2017-19) and Cheyenne East (2014-16) have won the past six state championships. Class 2A has seen either Sundance (2017, ‘19) or Wright (2018, 2014-16) take home gold the past six years. And in 1A, Cokeville has won three in a row and seven of the past nine. Class 3A is the outlier, with Rawlins’ title last year marking the eighth year in a row the classification didn’t have a repeat champ.
If ever there was going to be a year in which the script might be flipped, 2020 seems as good a bet as any. Teams and fans are going to have to get used to not having any multi-team invitationals this year, which means the state tournament (Nov. 4-7 at the Casper Events Center) will be a four-day affair, with each classification starting and finishing on the same day.
Here’s a quick look at each of the classifications ahead of the season tipping off across the state this weekend.
Three-time defending state champ Kelly Walsh has to replace seven seniors and three all-state selections off last year’s team, but opponents should know by now to never underestimate the Trojans.
The same could be said for East, which returns all-state senior outside hitter Hailey Marshall and seven other players off last year’s third-place team.
State runner-up Thunder Basin also returns a veteran lineup spearheaded by senior outside hitter Elsa Clark, while Laramie juniors Halley Freezer and Alexis Stuckey lead a young and talented Plainsmen squad chasing its first state title since 1994.
With 10 returning all-state selections, including four two-timers, 3A is loaded with talent and experience. And while the state championship trophy has changed hands each of the past eight years, Rawlins could be poised for a repeat. The Outlaws return two all-staters in McKenzie Earl and Brooke Palmer and finished second in both 2017 and ‘18 before breaking through last year.
Runner-up Worland also figures to be in the mix as the Warriors return two all-state selections in Denali Jones and Payton Julson among a deep senior class. Douglas will once again be in contention behind a strong offensive attack led by seniors Allyson Fertig (a University of Wyoming basketball commit) and Joslin Igo.
Add Pinedale and Lander, who played an epic five-set thriller in last year’s consolation semifinals with Pinedale winning 3-2 (25-20, 26-24, 21-25, 17-25, 15-11), and the 3A race is going to be one to keep an eye on throughout the year.
After starting last season 7-4, Sundance won 20 of its final 23 matches, culminating with a 3-0 sweep of Wind River in the championship match. With a number of varsity players returning, including senior all-state selections Aftyn Marchant and Sherry Negaard, the Bulldogs are once again on the short list of championship contenders.
Wind River has to replace some key players, but looks to build on its success from last season. And perennial contender Wright, which finished third last year, is always a tough out at state.
For the first time in years, Cokeville enters a season without a returning all-state player after the graduation of senior standouts Kamille Nate, Emma Teichert and Alisen Petersen. But the Panthers, who have won a state-best 24 state titles, prefer to reload rather than rebuild, so they remain the favorite until another team knocks them from the perch.
Odds are if that happens it will be a team from the Southwest Conference, which has not only had the last nine state champs but has had at least two teams finish in the top four during that same stretch.
Outside of the Southwest, the best bets appear to be 2018 runner-up Hanna, which returns all-state selections Madison Campbell and Amy Campbell, and Meeteetse, which finished third last year behind the play of all-staters Samantha May and Lexi Allen.
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN
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