The Lyman volleyball team had no idea it was undefeated until people outside the program started to point it out over a month into the season. It wasn’t a goal of the players, it wasn’t even on their minds. They never even thought of winning every game, they just wanted to win the next game.
For the past two seasons the Eagles had talent but were outgunned. A talented class, including four who had played together their whole lives, led a volleyball resurgence to a community that hadn’t seen gold in that sport since 1994 — and with each season that year drifted further and further away. They lost to Rawlins in the quarterfinals two years ago and then lost to eventual state champion Douglas in the quarterfinals last year.
In 2018 they were seniors and it would be their last chance. In an effort to make their championship dreams come true they focused on the little picture — each set one-by-one — to make it happen. That thinking paid off.
Lyman needed to stage a three-set comeback to beat Rawlins in the 2018 Wyoming State High School Class 3A Volleyball Championship earlier this month in the Casper Events Center. Having fallen behind, the Eagles needed to play just their third five-set match of the season to at least prolong their season another 15 points. Thirty of the Eagles’ 36 wins came in sweeps.
Following a confidence-building 25-21 win in the third set, Lyman won a back-and-forth fourth set 30-28 to force a decisive fifth. As the only championship match to go to five, all of the Events Center crowd witnessed the spellbinding fifth set that senior McKailey Bradshaw ended with a spike at 16-14. And with that swing Lyman completed its quest for elusive gold and inadvertently achieving perfection all in the same moment.
“I’m pretty tired,” Lyman senior McKinley Bradshaw said after the win. “But it’s pretty exciting at the same time. We went 36-0. We didn’t lose. So I’m proud of that and proud of our team for what we accomplished this season.”
Lyman’s first weekend involved wins over Class 4A Star Valley, Gillette and Green River. The Eagles didn’t drop a set until going five sets with rival Mountain View in the final match that weekend. The next weekend they ran the Utah gauntlet, dropping just one set in seven matches.
Over the course of the following weeks Lyman accrued multiple more sweeps, including back-to-back tournament sweeps of Mountain View and Rawlins. Only the rival Buffalos and eventual Class 1A champion Cokeville were able to take sets off the dominant Eagles throughout the regular season.
That’s when, for the fifth time in the season, Lyman met Mountain View. The fifth meeting, however, was for the West Regional championship. The Buffalos rushed out in front and forced Lyman to rally from a 2-1 deficit. Perhaps that helped prepare the Eagles for one of the most intense state championship games in recent memory.
“My kids haven’t been tested like that many times this season,” head coach Brecia Hansen said. “Once we got into that fifth set I knew we would compete but I just didn’t know how it would turn out.”
The Eagles didn’t expect to be in that position against a team they had swept previously this season. Rawlins, perpetual semifinalist, was excited for one more opportunity to earn the program’s first title since 2001 and the Eagles started looking too far ahead.
“I think that we thought we had it for a second and then after those first two sets we realized that we don’t have it and that we have to work hard for it,” McKailey Bradshaw said. “After we discovered that and started playing our game, then it worked out.”
Bradshaw put the final ball down, let out a scream and collapsed in a swell of tears. The years of coming so close finally paid off in the last possible swing for this senior class.
Lyman had been dealt bad hands in the past and could seemingly never get past the quarterfinals. They were undefeated in basketball as juniors before a loss in the regional championship derailed the season altogether (they lost in the quarterfinals of the state tournament). When faced with a possible loss in this year’s volleyball regional they fought back.
Through years of playing together, some involving the most gut-wrenching results, the Lyman senior girls walked away from volleyball with their names forever carved into history.
“We stuck together,” McKinley Bradshaw said. “We didn’t expect to win it all and never be beaten but we never gave up and we never quit.”
Added first-cousin McKailey Bradshaw: “It was the best season anyone has ever had in Lyman’s history. Thirty-six wins, no losses, state championship. It’s going to be something that people are going to remember forever.”