Four of the five NCHS seniors helped break an 11 year drought from state on the volleyball court a month ago, while the other was on the golf team that finished fourth at state in September. Every one of them was with the team when they qualified for state hoops as sophs, and three have three years of varsity experience. “We shouldn’t be so scared of it anymore,” said Amanda Smith. Trisha Hales added, “We don’t want big games to overwhelm us.”
Posts Hales and Smith have only missed a handful of games the past three years and guard Miranda Gilkey saw some varsity time as a freshman. “We have five starters returning, while the other teams are replacing key players,” noted Gilkey. Emma Ceaglske moved into the guard rotation her sophomore season and Makayla Waldock provides depth and vocal leadership.
Add in seven juniors that made up the majority of a JV team that went 11-6 last winter and head coach Deb Murray has 12 returning letter winners from last year’s team. “They’re going to have to sacrifice for the team to be successful,” said Murray. Nine of them played 18 or more of the teams 24 games, and all will be pushing for floor time. “As the season progresses, it could be different people in different situations and matchups,” she added.
Taylor Gaukel enters her third year of varsity play while classmates Ashley Christianson, Kianna Blackburn, Sadie Sturman and Mackenzie Lyons will all play key roles. Makenna Engelker and Julianne Graham round out Deb’s dozen.
To say the Lady Tigers will sneak under the radar is unlikely. Smith, Hales, Gilkey and Gaukel were selected All Conference last year and are expecting to shoulder bigger loads this season. “For us, it’s an exciting place to be in,” said Murray. “But we have to work hard every day to get better, and see where that takes us.” Pine Bluffs, Southeast, and all of the Northeast schools will pose a challenge, while Wyoming Indian, Greybull, Rocky Mountain, Big Piney and Shoshoni will be strong out West.
Filling out the roster are just two sophomores and nine freshmen to balance out the JV and C squads. Murray is joined on the sideline again this season by Bryan Engelker (third at NCHS) and Rich Murray (second as girls assistant).
The Lady Tigers begin the season at the Herder Classic this weekend in Glenrock. All three games are an immediate test for Lusk as they face WyoPreps #1 Big Horn Friday at 6:30 p.m., before Saturday games against Wright (10 a.m.) and #5 Greybull (1 p.m.). “It’s a pretty competitive field across the state,” said Murray. “We’re going to have to be ready to play every game.”