The Camels were better this time around, but still didn’t have enough to handle the high-powered Bolts in a cross-town volleyball showdown.
The Gillette rivals met for a rematch in front of a packed crowd at Campbell County High School on Thursday, two weeks after the Thunder Basin High School volleyball team beat CCHS in three sets.
The homestanding Camels forced a four-set match this time, but TBHS found a way to grind out the win on a night it wasn’t in top form, 25-14, (28-26), 25-18, 25-16.
“We didn’t particularly play our best. We aren’t too happy with how we played, but a win’s a win. It’s going to tally on the W side,” TBHS senior Rigan McInerney said. “There’s just so much energy and it’s so loud in the gym that it’s hard to rally. … (This game) is just a lot more personal because we want to show the town’s ours.”
Campbell County coach Marcy Befus was encouraged by the improvement her team showed from two weeks ago. While she didn’t like some inconsistency throughout the match, she thought the Camels played better in almost every area.
“I think defensively we played better. I think we blocked better, took some things away from them and maybe forced them to make some errors, but we just have to clean it up,” Befus said. “It was definitely better … but I don’t think we hit the ball very well tonight. We’ve got to put the ball in the court,”
The Camels only had about 10 hitting errors in their win over Laramie last week, Befus said, but they made more than 30 against the Bolts.
TBHS coach Wenett Martin didn’t think her team played with it’s usual energy and focus, but more of a “let’s get a win and get out of here” attitude. However, the Bolts came out and completely dictated the flow of play in the first set.
Regardless of whether the ball was landing in play, each rally seemed to end with the Bolts teeing off on a set from Chastin Nelson. Out of Campbell County’s 14 points, nine were hitting or serving errors from TBHS, one was a violation for four hits and another was a net infraction.
On the flip side, the Camels gave away nine points due to their own errors. They were still within striking distance down 14-9, but then Elsa Clark started a Bolts run with a big kill and Gabby Drube later finished it with a block to take control at 20-9.
In the midst of two raucous student sections, Martin said TBHS had multiple lapses of concentration on the night. One of those came near the end of the first set as a missed serve and three straight hitting errors closed the gap to 20-13.
However, the Bolts regrouped with five of the next six points and McInerney’s kill finished off the 25-14 win. It was similar to the start of the first match between the teams, but this time the Camels mounted a great response in set No. 2.
CCHS was trailing the nip-and-tuck second set 17-14 before showing a flash of what kind of team it can be. Chloe Davis and Breckyn Percifield started the run with a pair of kills that evened the score at 17. Then the home-court momentum took over and the Camels could do no wrong for awhile.
Shaelea Milliron chipped in with a pair of kills during the scoring run, but it was Percifield who really took over. She added two more kills, both assisted by Lauren Lacey, and finished by blowing an ace past the Bolts to take the 24-19 lead.
Thunder Basin didn’t go away quietly, though. McInerney sparked the comeback effort with an ace and a kill on back-to-back points and then Elsa Clark came alive with a great tip to the back corner to tie the score at 24-24 in dramatic fashion.
Four points later, it was tied again at 26 before Davis came up with a clutch kill to give the Camels their ninth set-point opportunity. This time they managed to put it away. Percifield had another powerful hit during a rally that ended with the Bolts hitting into the net and giving CCHS the 28-26 win.
“I thought the first set we came out and played really well. … But that second set, we definitely lost focus,” Martin said. “I think we thought, ‘Oh, we’ll come back and win’ and by God if we almost did it. We didn’t like losing that set.”
That was apparent when the teams returned to the floor for the final two sets, as the Bolts won both convincingly 25-18, 25-16.
The Camels were still in reach early during the third set only down 7-5, but TBHS freshman Joelie Spelts gave her team a spark and demonstrated her huge potential at the same time. She scored three straight points at the net, putting down a big kill and then blocking the Camels to end the next two rallies.
McInerney followed Spelts’ flurry of impressive plays at the net with an ace and the Bolts were in control again at 12-5. The Camels didn’t go away, but couldn’t quite recover either.
Milliron had a kill and an ace for back-to-back points to close the gap to 13-7 and then Lacey did the same to reel the Bolts back at 15-9. Percifield came alive again at the end of the set, putting down three kills to go with an ace, but the efforts just prolonged the 25-18 TBHS win.
The Bolts were ready to put a bow on the match when the fourth set rolled around and used their advantage at the net to get off to a fast start. Drube got the momentum started with a kill in the middle, before two blocks from Conklin and one from McInerney gave TBHS the 4-1 lead and forced a quick Camels timeout.
Kate Hladky forced the next CCHS timeout, as she followed up a kill by Clark with two straight aces to make it 15-5. The rest of the set was played pretty evenly, with both teams trading points to no avail until Hladky put and end to the rivalry match at 25-16 with the last of her four aces.
In the hitting department, McInerney led the Bolts with 13 kills, while Percifield was the top Camel with 11. Nelson led the Bolts with 26 assists, while Lacey had 18 on the other side of the net. Spelts was the match’s top blocker, denying the Camels seven times.
For the No. 2-ranked Bolts, this was a game they expected to win, but getting out of hostile territory without playing their best volleyball felt good.
“Sometimes wins aren’t as pretty as others. It’s a win and we’re going to move on,” Martin said. “I thought the Camels gave us some challenges and they did some different things. That’s what we were hoping they were going to do, was throw some different things at us, and they did.”
Martin said the Camels have come a long way in two weeks, which echoed Befus’ thoughts. Right now, Campbell County’s biggest issue is finding some consistency, but the improvement is certainly there.
“At times we’re doing great things, we just need to do those great things consistently. If we put it all together, we could be a little dangerous,” Befus said. “I’m not disappointed. I’m not frustrated. I’m excited about things that I see, I just hope we don’t run out of time.”
With three weeks until the postseason, her players are also feeling the pressure to clean up the little things. Befus gave the 9-13 Camels the option to take Friday off following the loss, but she got a resounding no in response.
The Bolts, now 19-4, return to their home court Friday at 6 p.m. against Laramie. Then Saturday, both TBHS and CCHS head to Sheridan for the Border Wars.