A wild comeback win put the Thunder Basin volleyball team into the state championship match, but the magic finally ran out when the Bolts got there.
The defending champion Casper Kelly Walsh Trojans flexed their power to win the first two sets 25-17, 25-19 in the title match before the Bolts made another spirited comeback bid to win the next two games and even the match at 2.
They scrapped their way back into the match with a pair of 25-22 wins, but Kelly Walsh found another gear in the fifth and deciding set, rolling to a 15-6 victory to repeat as the Class 4A Wyoming high school volleyball champs.
“We gave KW everything they could take. We were close to winning, came up a little bit short, but I am super proud of them,” TBHS coach Wennett Martin said about her team. “I don’t know if anybody else can say that they can play with KW like we did. We showed that we belonged in that match.”
The three other state title matches were all finished in three sets, so the top two teams from 1A, 2A and 3A sat down on their courts to watch the 4A powerhouses trade haymakers.
The difference in the first two sets was the closing ability of the Trojans because the Bolts were hanging around in both. The Kelly Walsh lead was just 17-16 in the first set before the Trojans rolled to a 25-17 win.
In the second set, an 18-18 tie turned into a 25-19 win for KW and the 2-0 match lead. TBHS had 17 unforced errors in the first two sets, and senior Rigan McInerney said that was the biggest contributing factor to the losses.
Thunder Basin’s backs were shoved even further against the wall in the third set when Kelly Walsh jumped out to a daunting 18-11 lead. It looked like the Bolts season was coming to a screeching halt, but they refused to quit.
Every time TBHS needed a big hit, McInerney who provided it. She had a kill to start a seven-point run and an ace from Gabby Drube capped it to tie the score at 18.
It was still deadlocked at 21 when the Bolts dominated the final five points. Chastin Nelson surprised the KW defense with a quick set over the net to make it 22-21, and then they finished the win with a block by Drube and a kill by Elsa Clark for the 25-22 win.
There was virtually no separation between the teams in the fourth set, but the Bolts managed another tight 25-22 victory. The approach for TBHS was clear — Nelson was funneling the ball to her big-hitting classmate, McInerney.
McInerney and Joelie Spelts both had a pair of kills early in the set, but the scoring was back and forth and the Bolts only led 9-8 at one point. A tip by Brooke Conklin and an ace from Clark broke a 10-10 tie for a two-point lead, but KW later knotted things up again at 14 with a kill.
The biggest lead of the game for TBHS came at 21-17,= after Drube came up with a huge block of future University of Wyoming player Corin Carruth. The Bolts held the Trojans at bay for the rest of the set thanks to several Kelly Walsh mistakes.
Four of Thunder Basin’s final five points came on KW errors, including set point. The other point was yet another block by Drube against Carruth, who is one of two Division I hitters for the Trojans. The Bolts won 25-22 to force the shortened tie-breaker fifth set.
“It takes a lot of grit and perseverance to come back (from being down two sets). It takes a lot of time, but you have to believe in yourself,” McInerney said.
KW has a stockpile of powerful hitters and the refocused Trojans put them on full attack in the fifth set. They started with five kills and an ace and it was 5-0 before the Bolts knew what hit them.
Kelly Walsh finally hit the ball out of bounds and Clark followed up with an ace, but that 5-2 line was the closest the Bolts would get. McInerney had three kills to give her team some needed energy, but TBHS was facing Kelly Walsh at its best in the fifth set and lost 15-6.
“Nothing was stopping them (in the fifth set). They were hot,” Nelson said.
Falling short in the biggest match of the season is never easy, but the Bolts had reason to walk off the court knowing they played to their potential.
“It sucks, but I think a lot of us can walk off knowing that we gave it our all. That’s a good feeling,” McInerney said. “We took our best shot to get it done. I think we did pretty good.”
The Bolts were playing in the third-place match a year ago. For the seniors who were a big part of both teams, there’s no comparing the level of sisterhood.
“This year is so different. This year we looked more like a family than we did just a team. Last year we just looked like a team,” Nelson said. “This year we loved each other. … These are my sisters, not my friends. My sisters. That’s just what it took.”
Thunder Basin will graduate McInerney, Nelson and Angela Youngs and their coach couldn’t say enough about the trio of seniors.
“I am super proud of them,” said a teary-eyed Martin. “They did a good job this year. I don’t think we have anything to hang our heads down about, but second place is just always tough.
“We came into this season saying, ‘We’re taking something other than fourth.’ We did not want to do that again and we didn’t.”