Last season’s state volleyball championship confirmed what the Wyoming volleyball community has known for years: Jeff Barkell has built a program.
Nobody has bared the brunt of that fact more recently than crosstown rival Natrona County.
The Fillies have boasted all-state selections, all-star game participants, even NCAA Division II recruits all in the past two years alone. And yet their record against the Trojans in that time stood at 0-4 entering this season.
That mark stretched to 0-5 on Thursday night as the Trojans calmly dispatched their longtime city-limit, newly inter-conference rivals with a clean 3-0 (25-12, 25-13, 25-18) sweep in the friendly confines of Kelly Walsh High School.
“We were all looking forward to this game and really excited about it,” KW junior Corin Carruth said. “It helped with our energy, which we’ve been struggling with a lot this year, but this game is going to set us up.”
The on-paper result shouldn’t have surprised. Kelly Walsh started three key cogs from last year’s team and new starters this season had practiced against last year’s varsity starters and played in late-tournament sets. They had been exposed to the standard of high-caliber volleyball every day in practice that conquered Class 4A last year.
On the flip side, Natrona County featured fresh faces almost exclusively. Even those with varsity experience struggled through the rivals’ first meeting of the season.
Kelly Walsh established an early lead in the first set and continually took advantage of NC miscues. Miscommunications on defense dug the young Fillies an early hole and forced head coach Michael Botkin to call timeout. Kelly Walsh scored eight of the game’s first 10 points.
Even when the Fillies, with all their promise, mounted a rally to catch the Trojans off-guard, somehow the defending champions walked away the benefactor.
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Natrona County returned an epic rally off two diving digs late in the first set. A near-desperation dig on the third hit crept over the net and caught senior Trojan Hadley Lloyd akwardly. The ball bounced back and eventually found its way to Carruth. With the Natrona County crowd still raucous, Carruth sent a vicious spike into the floorboards for one of her game-leading 13 kills.
“When you’ve got kids like Corin and Dani(lynn Schell) and Hadley who have been in state championship moments and made big plays,” Barkell said, “then they get in these moments and they kind of thrive on it. They find a way to just make a play at crucial times.”
The Trojans still earned the point to go up 21-12. They didn’t allow another point in that set.
Kate Robertson’s first kill and block in the second set brought the Fillies to life only to find that momentum killed almost immediately. The Trojans jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the second set and didn’t let up. Another run put them up 20-11. A forceful block by Carruth ended it.
Natrona County stayed close and even took a 9-8 in set three. The Trojans’ accuracy slipped and the Fillies took advantage.
“The third set, it was stressful, I feel like we lost our focus,” Carruth said. “Once we put a few balls down and Dani got a few serves we were all good.”
Then the defending champions returned to form and completed the sweep. They spread the ball around behind Carruth with Lloyd adding six kills, junior Isabel Lyons hitting five and the trio of Schell, Brooke Abbott and Saaj Hull each contributing four.
The Fillies were led by senior Grace DuBay, who scored a team-high five kills. Their next opportunity for redemption now lies two months away in the VolleyBowl.