Even though Kelly Walsh came into this season as the three-time defending Class 4A state volleyball champions, the Trojans figured to take some lumps early. That’s to be expected when a team has to replace seven seniors, including Division I signees Corin Carruth (Wyoming) and Danilynn Schell (Wisconsin-Green Bay).
Those losses, combined with the fact the Trojans were unable to practice or hold team camps during the spring and summer because of restrictions related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, left Kelly Walsh with a lot of questions and not many answers.
Through the first two weeks of the season, though, the Trojans have shown they still expect to be one of the top teams in the state. They enter Thursday’s match against cross-town rival Natrona County with a 3-1 mark after rallying to defeat a talented Cheyenne East squad on Saturday. After dropping the first set 25-13, Kelly Walsh won the next two (25-19, 27-25) for their third consecutive win.
“East flat out kicked our butt the first game,” Kelly Walsh head coach Jeff Barkell said at practice Tuesday. “With a young team it’s really easy in those situations to say, ‘Well, we can’t beat them because they just crushed us,’ and give up. We’ve seen that when teams have been on the other side where you beat them pretty handily and they just wallow through the next couple of games.
“So I was super-impressed that our girls kind of took the bull by the horns and said, ‘We’re going to compete.’ They just found a way to make the plays they needed to to help us win the match.”
The Trojans began the season with a 2-1 loss to Laramie and a 2-1 victory over Cheyenne South in the opening weekend. They followed that with a two-game sweep of Cheyenne Central before the impressive victory over Cheyenne East.
For a team that returns just two players with varsity experience – sophomore outside hitter Peyton Carruth and junior middle hitter Shelby Ramage – and doesn’t have a senior on the roster, the victory over the Thunderbirds was a step in the right direction.
“I was impressed with our energy and I think in the last two games that helped us to get that edge that we needed,” junior Logann Alvar stated. “I thought we really pushed through.”
Alvar and Ramage are joined by fellow juniors Peighton Dedic, Bailey Owen and Jennifer Alvar, with sophomores Carruth, Abi Milby, Wisdom Sczymcak and Cydney Eskew comprising the rest of the lineup. While the Trojans aren’t loaded with varsity experience, they have been successful at both the freshmen and junior varsity levels. And a majority of them got to go against last year’s varsity every day in practice.
“I think that our talent is pretty good,” Barkell admitted. “They like to compete and they’re learning new things about themselves every day.
“We’ve learned that even though we’re young we can play at a fairly high level,” he added. “I’m not sure they all believed that when we started.”
There is still a lot of volleyball to be played before the state tournament on Nov. 7, but the Trojans have demonstrated through the first two weeks that they won’t give up their championship without a battle.
“I wasn’t sure everyone could step up and take on those roles and gain that level of maturity so quickly,” said Alvar, who was a key contributor on last year’s Kelly Walsh basketball team. “I think Coach Barkell has done a great job of getting everyone to step up and be prepared and be leaders in their roles.”
Even with the impressive start, Alvar knows the Trojans are far from a finished product.
“I’m very excited for the potential that we have because I think we can all see it,” she said. “I think we’re all working hard to get to that potential.”
The young Trojans hope to realize more of that potential when they host a Natrona County team that is 3-1 under first-year coach Adrian McNamee. Kelly Walsh hasn’t lost to the Fillies since 2015, but Barkell knows the rivalry usually brings out the best in both teams.
“Everybody has jitters and gets kind of crazy when it’s the Natrona-Kelly Walsh game,” he said. “We’ve got talent and we know they’ve got talent so it should be a really good match for people to watch.”
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN
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