The names may have changed, but the end result was all too familiar Thursday in the crosstown volleyball match between rivals Kelly Walsh and Natrona County.
Kelly Walsh, with a roster comprised entirely of sophomores and juniors, dominated action for most of the match and came up with big plays when needed on its way to a 3-0 (25-12, 25-23, 25-12) sweep of the visiting Fillies. It was the seventh consecutive victory for the three-time defending state champs against Natrona County.
“It was pretty sloppy at times,” Kelly Walsh head coach Jeff Barkell said, “but the key to a sport like this is your flows have to be longer than your ebbs. And if your flows are longer than theirs then you’re typically going to win.”
The Trojans definitely found their flow in the opening set. After Natrona County took a 3-2 lead on a kill from sophomore Megan Hagar, Kelly Walsh went on a 9-0 run to take control behind the serving of junior libero Bailey Owen and some untimely errors from the Fillies.
Kelly Walsh put together a 7-0 run later in the set, with Owen providing the highlight. Owen served with the Trojans leading 15-5 and soon found herself staring down a vicious spike by Natrona County junior Alesha Lane. Kelly Walsh sophomore Cydney Eskew dove to the floor to keep the ball alive and Owen punctuated the point with a shot from the back row that found empty space on the Fillies’ side of the court.
“It’s a play where you would probably tell your kids 99 times out of 100 not to do it,” Barkell explained, “but she took a good swing at it. She made a good play, somebody scrambled at it and she took a good swing at it.”
The Trojans had a lot of good swings Thursday, with sophomores Peyton Carruth and Abi Milby and juniors Paighten Dedic and Shelby Ramage providing the majority of them. Carruth finished with a game-high 12 kills – to go along with 11 assists, five digs and two blocks) – including the first set-winner and three in a row midway through the second set to tie the set at 16-all.
Milby added six kills and Dedic (four) and Ramage (three) combined for seven. In addition, Owen had a game-high 10 digs and Dedic pitched in with seven. And Milby, Ramage and junior Logann Alvar combined for seven blocks. It’s the type of balance Barkell knows the Trojans will need going forward.
“We’re young, but if they play like a team we can be really good,” he said. “We’ve got talent so there’s some opportunity to continue to grow.
“We’re just looking for growth. And I feel like we did take a step forward tonight in a fairly intense environment.”
Milby admitted the intensity of playing her first varsity match against Natrona County was “nerve-wracking” when she first stepped on the court, but felt like the Trojans were able to feed off the energy of the crowd and the rivalry once the match started.
Owen believes that energy is key to the Trojans’ success.
“Our energy helps us a lot,” she said. “When we get really excited it helps how we play.”
The Fillies were able to capture some energy of their own in the second set behind strong play at the net from Lane and Hagar. They took an 18-17 lead on a kill from Hagar and Lane’s kill pulled NC within 24-23, but they were guilty of a carry on set point. It was a disappointing end to a strong set by Natrona County, but it was an encouraging sign for first-year coach Adrian McNamee.
“In the second set we started to find a rhythm, so there were definitely some positives,” McNamee stated. “Mentally in the second set we just said, ‘Look, we’re going to play our game and not worry about who is on the other side of the net.’ I thought we communicated better and we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot with unforced errors like we did in the first and third sets.”
After Thursday, both teams had played just five matches on the season. So neither team is close to being a finished product at this point. The Trojans are still finding their footing on the varsity stage while the Fillies, and their coach, are still finding their way.
“We’ve thrown a lot at them with different offenses and defenses,” McNamee said. “We’ve used about 17 different lineups and we’re starting to figure out one that might work better. There’s just a lot that they’re trying to mentally process.”
Kelly Walsh, meanwhile, took another step in their development as a team ready to continue its state championship run.
“We’re bonding more as a team,” Owen said, “And we’re starting to play more like a team that has been together longer than we have.”
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN
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