Jeff Barkell said back in August that he thought his team could compete for a state championship when the time came. The Kelly Walsh head volleyball coach remained optimistic despite losing two all-state selections, including the Class 4A Player of the Year.
The Trojans’ returning talent, including another all-state selection, didn’t allow expectations for the program to drop. They wanted another championship.
For over three months the Trojans practiced and matured into the team that Barkell knew they could eventually be — champions. Kelly Walsh overcame a slow start on November 3 to beat Laramie in the Wyoming State High School Class 4A Volleyball Championship, 3-1 (23-25, 25-22, 25-17, 25-10). That gave the Trojans an eighth overall title and completed just the second back-to-back championship run in program history.
“I’m really happy and really glad that we got a two-peat,” senior Brooke Abbott said after the win. “And it feels really good to be a part of this team, Kelly Walsh. It’s really good.”
Abbott was one of the seniors who waited in the wings of the successful program. Fellow senior Hadley Lloyd played some amount of varsity volleyball for all four of her high school years, Saaj Hull played varsity the most recent two years and Isabelle Lyons saw varsity action during last year’s state championship run. Then there was Avery Maxner and Whitney Porter, who were among a class of teammates that regularly squared-off against the starters on the 2017 championship team.
“We’ve got some kids, leadership-wise, that will do some things,” Barkell said before the 2018 season began. “That will be a process of getting them to where they can lead and get the other kids to follow without being mean.
“We want to get them comfortable talking to each other and listening to each other. Just because Hadley has been out there for four years doesn’t mean she gets to say everything.”
Initially, it was a process. While the Trojans swept their first five matches, the opening weekend of the season ended in a straight-set loss to Cheyenne Central. The Trojans were swept again the following weekend by Billings (Mont.) Senior.
Kelly Walsh did not lose again.
The Trojans went on a 26-game winning streak — which included 22 sweeps — to end another season with championship gold. It was a feat made even more impressive by uncertainty. Reclassification changed the landscape of Class 4A volleyball, putting the Trojans against new competition in the West Conference.
Barkell acknowledged that the biggest difference to this season wasn’t competition as much as scheduling. The reclassification meant winning the conference or coming in second during the regular season no longer solidified their spot in the state tournament. Those berths could only be earned through performance at regionals.
“Now conference means something and regionals mean something more,” Barkell previously said. “So it’s kind of nice because we talk about building until the end and now we’ve got conference, then regionals becomes more important then you get to state. So, in my mind, it helps with the process building as the season goes.”
That’s exactly how it worked out. A swarm of senior talent was aided by two of the most prominent junior volleyball players in the state. Danilynn Schell became a three-time all-state selection this season, further building on her already impressive high school career. Corin Carruth, a valuable contributor last year, was honored as 4A Player of the Year following this championship campaign.
Schell and Carruth were a cornerstone duo that guided the Trojans through the conference schedule unscathed. When Star Valley pushed Kelly Walsh to a 2-0 deficit in the West Regional championship, those two reliably made plays that allowed the Trojans to complete the comeback. At the state tournament it was Schell’s role as distributor that allowed Carruth to score emphatic kills.
“All you have to do is set it up to Corin,” Schell said after the championship match,” and she’ll put it down.”
Carruth scored the set-point in all three of their winning sets during the championship match. The first two coming on spikes while the third, and final, point came on a serve that hit the net and fell over for an ace. She didn’t aim for an ace, that’s just how it happened.
The junior duo enjoyed a second state championship. It felt just as good as the first one. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve taken their eyes off the ball. Come summer, it’s back to the court once more.
“We’re definitely going to come back fighting in the off-season, getting ready for next season,” Carruth said, “because we want the same thing.”
Schell echoed those thoughts. The only way for them to improve on their current status would be to match what the volleyball dynasty before them did.
“Three-peat,” Schell said. “Do what Cheyenne East did, basically.”