With the passion of a team ready to end a five-match winning streak against its rival, Natrona County brought Thursday night fireworks into its home Jerry Dalton Gym for the first regular-season meeting against Kelly Walsh. The two-time defending state champion Trojans were caught off guard and stumbled. But there’s a reason that Kelly Walsh is the state’s top team.
Having endured the opening charge from the Fillies, Kelly Walsh pulled out a thrilling first set win and went on to win the next two sets far more easily, clinching a fourth consecutive sweep against Natrona County (29-27, 25-12, 25-18).
But what a charge the Fillies put into the champions, starting with a 7-0 run in the opening set that pulled the home team ahead, 8-2. That came, in large part, because of the resilient Fillies’ defense that constantly dug out the Trojans’ attack.
Each pummeling blow dealt by Corin Carruth, Danilynn Schell and Sarah Strube were countered by pinpoint plays from Kylie Hilderbrand, Anna Fink and Hilderbrand again. Even when the Trojans countered, with a kill from freshman Peyton Carruth starting a run, the Fillies had the answer. That built the drama for a big rally near the midway point of the set.
Back and forth went a rally — Kelly Walsh’s thunderous hitters against Natrona County’s resilient defenders — throughout several possessions. Ultimately, the ball fell to Fillies senior Parker Mooren, who thought she spotted an opening along the back line. Mooren’s hit connected only for her anticipatory celebration to morph into anguish as the referee ruled it out.
She wanted that. The Fillies needed that. The Trojans used that.
“We didn’t come out thinking they were going to play as well as they did,” Kelly Walsh head coach Jeff Barkell said. “That’s not a slap at them, we just came out to play a game and they came out and took it to us. They came out ready to fight hell with a squirt gun and came after us.”
That point cut Natrona County’s lead to 19-15 in the opening set and the Trojans narrowed the gap further. Kelly Walsh tied it at 22 before taking a lead at 24-23, the team’s first lead since 2-1. The Trojans sealed the set victory on a side-out shortly after.
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Despite an enthusiastic charge from the upstart home side, the Trojans found a way to win.
“We finally got settled in,” KW senior Sarah Strube said. “Once it’s an exciting game it just kind of spirals out and it’s fun. The crowd got into it and that first set was a lot of fun.”
That late-set momentum carried over into the second where the Trojans found gaps in the defense with far more consistency. Kelly Walsh jumped ahead to a 12-6 lead and widened that out to 19-8 before forcing a second Fillies timeout. If Natrona County came out of that timeout with answers, the Trojans changed the questions and finished off the set, 25-12.
The lackluster second set lit a fire under the Fillies, who once again showed fight in the third set. Even after freshman Peyton Carruth finished a momentous rally with a kill after sending a backwards ball over the net following older sister Corin’s dramatic save, the Fillies answered on the next ball. Tessa Cougenour provided that point for the home side.
Ultimately, there proved to be too many Trojans with too much power. The senior Carruth led Kelly Walsh with 11 kills while freshman Peyton added seven and Schell added six. Schell also had 10 assists, just two behind team leader Isabel Lyons. Corin put down a hard kill to serve as the match’s exclamation point at 25-18.
The younger Carruth scored Kelly Walsh’s opening point and saw the match’s duration through. Her contributions showed she’s not in the lineup as anything but one of the most promising young players in the state.
“Peyton’s a heck of an athlete,” Barkell said. “She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know and she doesn’t care that she doesn’t know it so she just gets out and gets after it.”
Natrona County’s evenly-distributed night was led by Quinci and Parker Mooren, who both finished with four kills.