Lady Blue gears up for conferenceSep 27, 2017 By Scott Akanewich, Sports Editor
During each season, the business end arrives in the form of conference play, when seeds for regional tournaments and ultimately berths at the state tournament are fought for.
Consider this week the arrival.
All of Fremont County's volleyball squads will be in action against league opponents in beginning their respective quests for postseason glory this weekend.
Lady Blue of Shoshoni will host a Class 2-A Northwest doubleheader against Greybull and Lovell on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Head coach Christina Mills' club is currently sitting at 5-10 overall, but 1-0 in conference after defeating Riverside on the road on Saturday, 3-0 (25-23, 25-14, 25-12).
Ashley Steffen has stepped in brilliantly as the Wranglers' go-to girl, leading the team in kills, with 166 on the season and continued bombing away from the outside against the Lady Rebels, collecting 12 kills, along with 14 digs in the victory, with senior Brianna Thompson supplying 32 assists.
According to Mills, the critical component in her club's success was their serve throughout the match.
"Our serving was the outstanding factor," said Mills. "Jump serving and standing-float serves really made Riverside scramble and we had a lot of aces. We also passed well and put our setter in a position to better distribute the ball to our hitters."
However, the previous day at home against Glenrock, it was a different story for Lady Blue, who were defeated at Wrangler Gym by Glenrock, 3-0 (25-20, 25-13, 25-20).
Poor passing was what did Shoshoni in during this one, said Mills.
"Against Glenrock, our passing wasn't consistent, so we did not get the swings we needed to put the ball away," she said. "But, I was impressed with our blocking across the front. Our middles are doing a great job of finding the hitter and making them adjust so our defense can pick up the hit."
The Lady Cougars of Wind River have undergone a renaissance since early-season struggles and find themselves hitting their stride as they enter Class 2-A Southwest play this week, with a road match against nonconference Riverside on Friday, before returning to the Purple Palace for a league doubleheader on Saturday, as head coach Jamie Lockhart's squad will host league foes Big Piney and Kemmerer.
Wind River began the current campaign 0-7, but are 5-2 since, bringing its record to 5-9 as they begin conference play.
Against the Lady Buffs of Greybull in their only match last week, the Cougars were defeated, 3-0 (25-10, 25-15, 25-15).
Jaylynn Fightingbear led Wind River with seven kills, while Gaby Wall added four and Kodi Anesi and Savannah Arneach had three apiece.
Freshman Charlie Strock had 13 assists, while Layne Sanderson contributed three digs.
"With our setter getting hurt in the second set, we had our freshman setter, Charlie Strock step up," said Lockhart. "Even though we came out with a loss, we worked together and played well. During the Greybull game, our weakness was serve-receive.However, we'll work hard this week to make a couple adjustments just in time for our first conference games."
The Lady Cougars suffered an injury blow which contributed to their slow start, but have rebounded nicely now that players have made the necessary changes, said Lockhart.
"We had a key injury that took out one of our top middles, but we had a player step into the position, Alison Johnson and she's played very well, but it took some time for us to make those adjustments," she said."Now with a full roster and knowing what success feels like after week three, we continue to stay focused and positive."
However, it's been a complete team effort as far as the Lady Cougars boss is concerned, said Lockhart.
"Right now, I can't say it's only a few players that have led us to where we are," she said."I truly believe each of my players that have played on the varsity court thus far has had a major impact on our team.Not only do we have strong underclassmen stepping up to be key players, but we have five seniors that have great leadership skills."
Despite the fact it's taken a bit longer for success to come to fruition this season, Lockhart certainly isn't surprised by what she's now seeing, she said.
"With only losing one senior last year, we have a group of girls that have been playing together for the past two years and some even for the past four years," said Lockhart."We have the skill to do great things -- we just had to put it together and stay positive.Every game, we've improved and continued to work as a team."
All the tournaments her squad has played in has prepared them for what lies ahead, she said.
"We've had the chance to compete with some of the top teams in our conference -- some we came out on top and other games, we fell short, but every game we've learned what we need to improve on and work hard that week in practice.I believe if we continue to work together as a team and stay focused, we'll be one of the top teams in the conference."
Fightingbear is the Cougars' kills leader on the season with 79, while Anesi has 55.
Natasha Lookingbill leads Wind River with 32 assists, while Layne Sanderson has 20 digs.
Lockhart put her team's recent success down to meticulous study not only of their opponents, but themselves, she said.
"At the beginning of the week, we assess the games we played that previous week," said Lockhart."We watch film and critique every game. We focus on our weaknesses, but also notice our strengths. We then look at what we have coming up for the week and go into practice focused."
On Friday, the Lady Rams of Dubois had a big road victory against Class 1-A Northwest opponents Meeteetse, winning 3-2 (25-23, 20-25, 16-25, 25-9, 15-12).
Calyn O'Neal had 13 kills for the Rams, with Aubry Baker adding eight and Mekayla Chamley contributing seven.
Riley Rux recorded 19 assists on the match, while Baker had 20 digs and Rheannon Hawk 16 on the day.
For Dubois head coach Tina Baker, the win was gratifying in that it showed her club's true colors in fighting back from a 2-1 deficit.
"It was great to come out with a win. We didn't play well the first three sets, but turned it on in the fourth and played like the team I know we can be, then played well in the fifth set with fewer errors," said Baker. "We didn't pass well all match, but we blocked better. Mekayla really helped offensively on the net, which helped balance our attack."
According to Baker, her side is either really on or really off, meaning one never knows which Rams squad will show up in a given set, no less, match.
"When we're on fire, it's magical to watch - the rest of the time it's pretty frustrating," said Baker. "The win was big because in the event of any tie situations, we beat them by more points than they beat us, which puts us ahead
On Saturday, the Lady Rams returned to the Big Horn Basin to face another conference foe in Burlington, only this time losing in five sets, 3-2 (25-18, 22-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-10) to the Lady Huskies.
Baker was left to rue her side's inability to find a consistent rhythm, she said.
"We played well and competed throughout most of the match, came from behind to win the second and third sets, then dug a hole in the fourth, but clawed our way back after we were down 23-9," said Baker. "All day long, it was like playing in slow motion - we played hard, but never found a groove."
Despite a hard-fought defeat, there were certainly bright spots, said Baker.
"Calyn and Rheannon did an outstanding job on the net against their big girls, who didn't score many points," she said. "Sophomore Kellyn Chandler came off the bench and played solid when we needed a sub. Serving was great, a lot of errors digging and our passing was poor again. When you don't pass well, the rest of the game takes on a whole new look and hitting out of system all the time doesn't help."
On Friday, Dubois (4-7, 3-2 Class 1-A Northwest) will host a rematch with Burlington.
The Lady Chiefs of Wyoming Indian lost their only match of last week in a road contest against Hanna-Elk Mountain, 3-2 (24-26, 25-18, 27-25, 14-25, 15-13).
Wyoming Indian (4-13) will open Class 2-A Southwest play against Kemmerer and Big Piney, both at home on Saturday.
Last week, the Lady E
Last week, the Lady Eagles of St. Stephen's hosted the Wind River junior varsity on Thursday and came away with a victory, 3-0 (25-14, 25-19, 25-18), then faced conference opposition in Burlington on Friday, losing, 3-0 (25-19, 25-21, 25-19).
St. Stephen's (6-10, 0-3 Class 1-A Northwest) will next host Ten Sleep on Friday.