One up, one down. That’s exactly how the Thunder Basin High School volleyball team wanted to start the state tournament Thursday and that’s what it did.
The Bolts came in as the No. 3 seed from the East Conference and faced an athletic second-seeded Rock Springs team for a chance to advance to the state semifinal.
Thunder Basin won in convincing fashion, sweeping the Tigers in three sets 25-16, 25-17, 25-22. Rock Springs wasn’t a team that could be handled easily, though, and TBHS coach Wenett Martin was impressed with how the Bolts started the match.
“Rock Springs is a good team and to beat them in three, I thought we handled ourselves well,” she said. “All week we’ve focused on us and doing little things better. … I think we tied everything together.”
Both teams spent the opening minutes of the first game feeling each other out. The score was knotted at 8 before the Bolts rattled off four points in a row. Joelie Spelts, Gabby Drube, Elsa Clark and Chastin Nelson all scored during the run.
TBHS was leading 15-10 after two more kills from Clark, but didn’t pull away until late. Clark was the catalyst again for the winning spurt, putting down two big kills and a block during a four-point run to make it 24-16.
The winning point came from Nelson, who surprised the Tigers with her second quick set over the net to close it out 25-16.
The Bolts dominated play during the middle stages of the second set. Rock Springs jumped out to a 4-1 lead before Rigan McInerney had one of her best kills of the match to get TBHS going.
The Bolts took the lead for good four points later, as Brooke Conklin came up with a kill and then served an ace to make it 6-5. A slew of Tiger mistakes boosted the lead further and a big kill from Clark made it 14-8 midway through the set.
Later, a kill by McInerney put the Bolts in cruise control up 22-14. Then the freshman Spelts showed off her power with two kills of her own. The second was hit so hard that it caused the largest bench reaction of the night, apart from the match-winning point.
Clark closed the second set out with a kill assisted by Nelson and the Bolts moved on to the final set in great position. However, they had to work extremely hard for the final win.
TBHS leaned on all-state senior McInerney early in the third set. She had two kills to offset Rock Springs’ fast 3-2 start and then served up a pair of aces to take a 9-5 lead.
The Tigers wouldn’t go away, though, and kept the gap right around two points the rest of the way. The Bolts had two more four-point leads at 14-10 after a kill by Conklin and at 16-12 after one by McInerney, but the deficit shrunk to 19-18 for the final stretch.
The Bolts created some distance late, helped by two Tiger errors to make it 21-18. Drube, Clark and Spelts all scored at the net during the next three points to push the lead to 24-18, before a kill by Clark closed out the match at 25-22.
It was a big win, as all wins at state are, but the Bolts didn’t get over-hyped about it.
“They were pretty excited, but then they took a deep breath and they were ready to move on,” Martin said. “They’re not letting the moment be too big for them.”
The Bolts are set up for a semifinal battle with Cheyenne East on Friday night, just like the two schools’ football teams.
Thunder Basin has faced the Thunderbirds three times this season, winning twice and losing once. The loss came during the first match of the season, while the most recent TBHS win was four-set affair three weeks ago.
East is a tough team that can cause problems with its middle hitting, Martin said. Serving will be one of the big keys for the Bolts to “keep them out of their system.”
The game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at the Casper Events Center.