It was the first time since 2005, and the lack of experience at state volleyball was more overwhelming than the Lady Tigers were ready for. Unlike the other team sports, all four classes of volleyball are playing at one time on the Casper Events Center floor. There is cheering from all corners, whistles echoing, balls flying all over and only a net across the middle to split the arena.
First up for the Lusk girls was Big Piney, the #2 seed from the 2A West Conference in the Thursday finale. The Lady Punchers came out with more calm than NCHS and took a 13-8 lead in the first set. The Lady Tigers got back to within 17-15, but couldn’t keep up. BP won the first set 25-19, as Lusk struggled with their passing and net defense.
In the second set, the teams were tied at six, but from there BP took control. Haylee Hoffman reeled of five serves in a row helping BP to an 11-2 run. Moments later Taylor Gaukel killed a floater to get NCHS back in at 21-17, but it wasn’t enough as the Lady Punchers won by another 25-19 score.
Facing a loss in the third, Lusk recovered from a 10-5 deficit to tie the set at 13 behind Trisha Hales’ hot serving hand. It was still tied at 17 before BP pulled ahead, yet the Lady Tigers had a bit more fight. Miranda Gilkey and Amanda Smith put a pair into the floor to stay close at 23-21. The Lady Punchers held on for the 25-22 sweep, and proved their mettle with a third place trophy Saturday afternoon.
In a Friday afternoon loser out game the Lady Tigers were matched up against Wind River and came out with great energy. It appeared the 20 win team Lusk fans were accustomed to, was back as the lead became 10-4 behind a Reygan Molzahn kill. Just as quickly the Cougars tied it at 14 in a series of errors from NCHS. Ashley Christianson tipped a ball over for the 21-18 edge, but somehow the Lady Tigers faltered in the 25-23 defeat.
In the second set Christianson rattled off the first five points from the service line and Smith dropped an ace in as the lead was again 10-4. NCHS stretched it to 18-9 before a sense of “Happy to be here” set in. WR tied the set at 20 and rode the momentum to a 25-21 win. The third set was tied at eight before WR took command over a lifeless, tired group of Lady Tigers in the 25-15 sweep.
Despite the disappointing finish, NCHS (20-10) won their most games since 2003 and erased a 12 year drought from the 2A State Tournament. The diverse talents of the seven seniors will be missed immensely, but they have helped inspire future Lady Tigers and re-ignite a passion. Another 12 year absence before NCHS returns seems unlikely.
NCHS TEAM STATS: Serving- 115/124, 8 aces, 93 percent; 50 kills/247 atts, 20 percent; 37 assists; 8 blocks; 131 digs/211 atts, 62 percent.
NCHS PLAYER STATS: Serving- Christianson 22/22; Smith 27/28; Hales 17/19; Molzahn 13/15. Kills- Smith 15; Gaukel 13; Molzahn 10. Assists- Christianson 32. Digs- Gaukel 32; Gilkey 24; Smith 23.