By Liz Wood 

Lady Tigers head to state


Liz Wood

Alyssa Barkhurst hits the volleyball back into the court to save a point against the Dubois Lady Rams Saturday morning at regionals.

The Encampment Lady Tigers qualified for the state tournament Saturday morning with a win against the Dubois Lady Rams.

The win came after a crushing loss against Cokeville Friday night.

"(Cokeville) played well, we didn't," Encampment Lady Tigers Head Coach Robin O'Leary said Saturday after placing third in regionals against the Burlington Huskies.

Little Snake River, which was ranked as the No. 2 seed going into regionals, pulled off wins against Cokeville and Encampment during the tournament in Lander. The Little Snake River Rattlers took first place at regionals, with Cokeville second and Encampment third.

O'Leary plans to work on defense as well as mental preparedness. "The last two losses had nothing to do with skills, it was their mental toughness," O'Leary said.

Cassidy Little, Alyssa Barkhurst and McKenzie Powell said they need to concentrate on their play rather than worrying about a fallen teammate. "We need to focus on our own game," A. Barkhurst said. "When we see someone fall, we try to build them back up and that takes away from our game," Barkhurst said. Their coach encouraged them to play their game and focus on their game. "Not in a selfish way," Powell added.

In volleyball, it is a fine line between worrying about your teammate and playing the game. It's that bond that has kept the team so focused this season.

"We had a three-hour talk after the game against Cokeville," O'Leary said. The girls have more than volleyball in their lives and after such an intense season they needed some time to unwind and talk, O'Leary explained.

There were surprises on the other side of the conference as well. The Hulett Lady

Devils have held the No. 1 spot in the state all season long. Their 1A East team finished second to Kaycee at the tournament in Buffalo this past weekend.

The Encampment Lady Tigers have been moving between the No. 2 and No. 3 spot in the state behind Hulett during the season, and will face the Lady Devils first at 2:30 p.m., Thursday at the state tournament in Casper.

The Kaycee Lady Buckaroos, who knocked the Hanna Elk Mountain Medicine Bow out of the regional playoffs, went into regionals as the No. 2 seed, with HEM as the No. 1 seed.

O'Leary said she and the team were grateful they have another week to play volleyball and she hopes to have a more consistent tournament than they did at regionals.

Encampment easily won against Ten Sleep Friday afternoon with a score of 25-5, 25-9, 25-7.

Friday night they lost three of four games against Cokeville 15-25, 9-25, 25-22, 25-9.

Saturday morning, the Lady Tigers were back in form as they beat the Dubois Rams 25-8, 25-10, 25-21.

"I didn't do any subbing during this game," O'Leary said. She wanted the girls to get their grove back together.

It worked. After handily beating the Lady Rams in the first two sets, the Lady Tigers has to fight hard in the third set as the Dubois Rams stepped up their game. The set would stay tied until the Lady Tigers refocused their defense to win the match.

The Lady Tigers played the Burlington Huskies to determine who would take third and fourth place at the state tournament. As would be expected between the finals between two of the top teams to make it through the tournament, the final match for the Encampment Tigers would be a competitive one.

The Lady Tigers had to be more prepared and more alert to what was happening on both sides of the court to pull the win off against the Huskies.

The Tigers' first set was flawless because the girls hit the ball off the net, a skill they had struggled with previously. They outhit and blocked the Huskies consistently winning the first set 25-15.

The Huskies put on more pressure in the second set. Even though the Lady Tigers took an early lead, the Huskies would soon catch up. Once the game was tied, there were several rallies in which A. Barkhurst and Little dug for the balls that were missed by the defense at the net. The Huskies defense proved to be just as talented as the Lady Tigers, as the ball would not get past the blockers on either side of the net. Several times, a resounding thunk was heard in the gym as girls on both sides of the net hit the volleyball at the same time.

Little, A. Barkhurst, Hailey Barkhurst and Powell were a difficult foursome to get past. The setting skills of Sierra Loftice and Cheyanne Jordan were invaluable as they set the ball for the Barkhursts, Little and Powell's kills.

But it would be the Lady Tiger's resilience that pulled off the win in the second set 25-22 after the game tied at 20.

The third set had the Tiger fans biting their nails. Powell held up three fingers on her right hand and a circle to represent a zero on her left hand in between each play, encouraging the Lady Tigers to win in three sets.

Both teams started out strong, but the Huskies soon developed a 10-point lead. The Lady Tigers regrouped and drove up their score with several successful plays and scored 9 consecutive points to tie the score at 21.

The Huskies got two more licks in before the Tigers won the game 25-23.

"We finally got calm and collected and we just finished (the game)," Powell said after the final set against the Huskies.

"We're fighters," A. Barkhurst said. "In previous years, (the game is) just over."

A. Barkhurst, Powell and Little said they were focusing on individual mental toughness in the last set to get the win.

"I am grateful for the talent the girls have and how they keep fighting," O'Leary said. She was pleased with how the girls overcame the 10-point lead against the Huskies in the last set. "Not a lot of teams that I have coached have overcome that," O'Leary said.

The girls plan to practice hard this week they said. "Last year, it was our first time in the gym (at state) and it just overwhelmed us. The lights were huge and the crowds were crazy," Powell said.

"During time outs we were staring at the crowd, instead of listening to the coach," Powell said.

"I think that past experience will help us stay focused and calm and help us focus," Powell said.

When asked what they are hoping for at state, A. Barkhurst, Powell and Little said, "State championship."


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