It took Maggie Hokanson 23 years to establish a volleyball program at Kaycee.
The Class 1A school rarely had the numbers, enthusiasm and athleticism all at once to make a state championship run but did stand as the standard in the East Conference. During those 23 years the Lady Bucs captured lightning in a bottle once. They went through Snake River, Burlington and Cokeville — three of the most consistent programs in the state — on their way to the 2010 state championship. By that time, Hokanson set the expectation for the program.
Now, three years into molding the Cheyenne Central volleyball program into a contender, she’s ahead of schedule. The Tribe is now 19-6 overall, 3-1 in the Southeast Quadrant going into this weekend’s road slate against Thunder Basin and Gillette. This year’s success has, at least partially, been pinned to last year’s promising season.
“Last year we started turning the corner when we were getting into some tough games when one bounce either way could have won it,” Hokanson said at last month’s Casper Invite. “I think we’re still working on that same mindset where they weren’t used to winning so they weren’t really sure they could.”
Central finished the Casper Invite with just one loss. It remains the Tribe’s only loss in the last 10 games. That could be a sign that Central is ready for the next step: making the state tournament.
That’s something the program has not done under Hokanson and last accomplished back in 2014. But even that accomplishment came with its underlying issues. Central had no steady coach and the Indians largely garnered acclaim by talented players.
So when Hokanson came in, she made it known that she would be there for the long haul.
“Part of the issue is that it’s a consistency piece,” she said. “The seniors I had the first year had three different coaches, including me. There’s a consistency issue. ...
“Consistency has been good for us. The seniors I have this year were sophomores when I started so the expectation and what we talk about and work on has been the same for at least three or four years.”
Another component to consistency has been each player knowing who they are lined up alongside. Most of the Indians have played club volleyball with each other for multiple off-seasons. That’s helped them gel together on the court, in addition to the added reps that come with strengthening their skills.
Senior Paige Blevins, junior Shelby Murrell and senior Jordan Harris have played with each other for multiple years. The addition of Cheyenne East transfer Irelin Fagenbush hasn’t hurt hurt either.
But that did pit multiple backgrounds against each other. There were the players who played club together, those who didn’t play club at all and the addition of this new talent from their rival school. The team’s cohesion has gone better than expected.
“It’s a lot better than I thought it would be,” Harris said. “I was kind of worried about that. We’ve always had the older girls and now we’re the older girls so I think it’s really worked out good.”
With just two weeks left in the regular season Central faces a pivotal finish. Outside of the trip to Gillette this weekend, it finishes with a home-away split against Laramie and Cheyenne South before regionals.
Obviously, the long-term goal for the program is to compete for multiple state championships. Kaycee hung as many championship banners during Hokanson’s 23 years as Central has in program history. That’s something that coach, player and school all hope to have remedied.
Before the title, however, comes erasing a four-year absence.
“Our goal is to go to state this year,” Harris said. “Once we work hard and get our ducks together we play well, so it works.”