CASPER – The Burns Lady Broncs launched a powerful kill, widening their lead over Pinedale to seven points during the third set of the consolation semifinals at the 2021 State Volleyball Tournament.
The Lady Wranglers faced a choice – throw in the towel or fight – as they squared off against Burns during a three-day rollercoaster ride at the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper.
Defying expectations in the quarterfinals, Pinedale upset No. 1 seed Buffalo in a 3-0 sweep. Advancing to the semifinals, the Lady Wranglers fell to Lyman, 3-2.
Burns unleashed its heavy hitters in the consolation round and was on the brink of routing the Lady Wranglers midway into the third set.
Burns then served the ball into the net. Pinedale senior Roxanne Rogers whipped up an ace. Junior Haylen Sandner spiked over a kill.
Burns hit net again on its next serve. Junior McKenzie Illoway powered over a pair of kills, assisted by freshman Gabrielle Rogers. Senior Abigail Hawke scored a kill. The Lady Broncs hit the ball out of bounds returning a serve by junior Toree Andersen.
Illoway delivered another kill, assisted by Roxanne Rogers, closing the gap and tying Burns at point 22.
Burns ultimately won the set by three points, defeating Pinedale 3-0, yet the Lady Wranglers resolved to dig deep and finish the game swinging hard.
“I was really proud of everyone for fighting until the very last point,” said Roxanne Rogers after the match against Burns. “Nobody laid down, nobody gave up.”
The Lady Wranglers’ determination to strike back despite the odds in the third set symbolized their overall season.
“It’s just crazy, the ride that we’ve been on,” Roxanne Rogers added. “I think a lot of people didn’t think that we would make it this far. We took a lot of losses. Throughout the season, we were ranked fifth and eventually we moved up to fourth. It was just working on the little things until we finally got to State. I think that was a positive.”
Head coach Tamara Currah agreed.
“The team should be proud of themselves,” she said. “To be ranked fourth and fifth in the state all year and come and make it to State and beat the first-place team in the eastern conference – there were so many positive things happening.”
Taking down the No. 1-ranked team in the 3A East Conference was a highlight.
“I think it really gave us the confidence we needed, to know that we can really work hard as a team and win,” said junior Sara Kunard.
“Coming into State, everybody’s record is 0-0, and (defeating Buffalo) shows that we can play with any team,” said senior Darby Clause. “It was really fun to just go out there and win with your teammates.”
Each set against the Bison came down to the wire.
“We really had to adjust our defense for some of the outside hitters on their team,” said Andersen. “But I felt that we really showed up on our defense and showed that we knew how to come together as a team.”
“Before every game, we always scout and watch game film,” said Roxanne Rogers. “But I think our No. 1 gameplan here was to come out, trust each other and play to our highest potential.”
Buffalo established a four-point lead early in the first set. Pinedale caught up and tied the match at point 9 with a pair of aces by Roxanne Rogers. Buffalo pulled ahead until Pinedale regained the lead with a block by senior Maggie Harber.
The Lady Wranglers tied the set again at point 15, when Rogers delivered a hit following deep digs by Kunard and Illoway. Buffalo rallied and pushed ahead, answered by a pair of kills from Illoway, assisted by sophomore Reagan Davis, and an ace by Roxanne Rogers.
Hawke tipped over set point, 25-22.
A pair of kills by Roxanne Rogers, an ace delivered by Gabrielle Rogers and a block from Sandner moved Pinedale ahead in the second set.
Buffalo served into the net, tying the set at point 16. Pinedale took the initiative and never looked back. Hawke hit over point 17, assisted by Davis. Sandner aced point 18. Hawke spiked over a series of kills off sets by Davis to score points 21 and 22.
Buffalo struck out returning a serve by Kunard. Roxanne Rogers slammed over set point, 25-23, assisted by Davis.
Buffalo started the third set ahead. Kills by Illoway and Hawke and aces by Roxanne Rogers and Clause allowed Pinedale to catch up at point 10.
Buffalo jostled back into the lead until hitting net on a serve from Kunard. Two hits by Sandner kept the set tied at points 15 and 17.
Roxanne Rogers aced point 18 followed by two hits and an ace from Sandner.
Buffalo tied the set at 24 points. Hawke powered over a kill, assisted by Davis, for point 25 and Rogers scored match point, 26-24.
“I knew we were going to have to fight for the win against Buffalo,” said coach Currah. “I felt like the girls did a really good job executing the plan and doing what we had to do in order to make that win. We served on par with them and I think that helped us. It was a good game.”
Pinedale’s victory over Buffalo landed the team in the semifinals against Lyman – a team with a 30-5 overall record.
Showing no fear, Pinedale won the first two sets.
Kills from Roxanne Rogers, Sandner, Illoway and Hawke maintained Pinedale’s lead in the first set until the Eagles caught up at point 14. Roxanne Rogers hit over two points, the second assisted by a deep dig from Kunard, to tie the match at 16 points.
Hawke pumped over a pair of kills, placing the Lady Wranglers back in the lead. Lyman hit the ball out of bounds on a serve by Kunard before catching up at point 23.
Sandner tipped over point 24 assisted by Davis. Illoway launched a kill for point 25. Roxanne Rogers aced set point, 26-24.
Pinedale opened the second set ahead with kills by Roxanne Rogers and Illoway and an ace by Andersen. The Eagles overtook the Lady Wranglers at point 16. Hawke made a block for point 22 and hit over point 23. Roxanne Rogers delivered a kill, tying the set at 24 points. The Eagles slipped past at point 25. Roxanne Rogers answered with a kill assisted by Clause.
Lyman snuck back up to tie the set at point 26. Roxanne Rogers scored a hit, assisted by Davis, carrying Pinedale to point 27. Lyman delivered a kill to match Pinedale before serving into the net.
Hawke fired off a kill for set point, 29-27.
“The girls came out hot after the win against Buffalo, and brought all that enthusiasm into the first two sets,” said coach Currah. “Both sets were hard – it came down to the wire, but we pulled out the two wins and the team was pretty pumped up. I feel like they came out knowing, ‘we got this.’”
“I think we definitely surprised ourselves a little bit,” said Roxanne Rogers. “We shocked Lyman. In the third set, they knew they had to come out with a little more fire.”
Lyman struck hard and fast in the third and fourth set, winning 25-7 and 25-6, respectively.
Pinedale regrouped in the tiebreaker, giving the Eagles a run for their money. Roxanne Rogers scored Pinedale’s first point. Sandner played a block for point 2. Illoway delivered a pair of kills, assisted by Davis and Kunard. Illoway provided coverage with two deep digs before slamming over a kill at point 7. Hawke shot over a kill, assisted by Davis, for point 8 and Lyman hit the ball out of bounds on two serves by Clause.
Lyman eventually pulled ahead to score match point, 15-11.
“Our team came out fighting and improved their level of play in that fifth set,” said coach Currah. “I was proud, overall, of the way we played in the game. We have not gone five sets with Lyman this year.”
The Lady Broncs hit the floor running in the first set, taking the win, 25-15.
Pinedale caught on to Burns’ offense and played a tighter second set. Aces by Andersen and Kunard carried Pinedale into the lead at point 12. Roxanne Rogers and Sandner maintained the Lady Wranglers’ momentum with hits.
Harber tied the set at point 15 with a kill. Burns regained the lead, though Pinedale stayed close on its heels with hits from Gabrielle Rogers, Hawke and Illoway.
Pinedale rallied in the third set, closing a seven-point lead to tie the match at point 22. Burns pulled ahead and scored match point, 25-23.
“Burns came in really enthusiastic and I felt like they really wanted it and they have a lot of big hitters,” said coach Currah. “They run a little bit faster offense then we see in the front row. I was proud of the team in the very last set. I felt like they fought to the very end and never gave up.”
The season ending earlier than expected was understandably hard for the seniors. Roxanne Rogers believed the team will come back ready to make noise next year.
“After a big loss like this, it definitely hurts,” she said. “We do have a young team, so they have another opportunity. I think they learned so much from this State Tournament.”