Oct 21, 2012 - By Randy Tucker, Sports WriterAfter two years as bridesmaids to the West 2-A regional crown, the Shoshoni Wranglers broke through to win their first regional volleyball tournament since 1982 in a hard-fought match with the Thermopolis Bobcats that went four sets.
The five-game marathon was the first of the season for the Wranglers, who have won nearly every match they've played this year in just three games.
"Thermopolis put up a good fight, "Shoshoni head coach Christina Mills said. "We had to earn that one."
The opening game looked like just another Shoshoni rout in progress as the Wranglers ran to a 9-0 lead on the serving of senior Kaylee Fegler en route to a 25-10 walloping of the Bobcats. A Thermopolis timeout didn't slow the onslaught much, as the Wranglers eventually built a 15-1 lead before any semblance of offense emerged from Thermop.
Shoshoni is an intimidating team at the net, with Sarah Thompson dominating the defensive middle and Shaide Pingetzer, Kolbi Pickinpaugh and Natalee Goff raining down hits from the outside. Goff hit the ball hard, driving it off the floor and the extended hands of attempted blocks at the net.
Just as the door to the regional crown looked to be open, it slammed shut in the second and third games. Though the Bobcats boast a front line almost as tall as the Wranglers and have a 5-10 leaper in senior Emily Lesmeister, they elected to not challenge at the net after the pounding they took in the first game.
The strategy paid off as all six girls dropped to defensive positions each time Shoshoni set to spike the ball. Long volleys and key placement rather than hard hits by the Bobcats or shots glancing off Wrangler blocks provided most of the Thermopolis offense.
In one streak the bobcats tallied a 7-0 run to build the lead and then held it until the 25-18 win.
Shoshoni regrouped in the third game and led from the start, with Goff hammering the ball and Pingetzer placing it well for key points.
In one of those "can't stand prosperity" episodes common to tournament play, Shoshoni led 24-17 but let the Bobcats back into the game on seven straight serves from senior Jordan Leyba. The Bobcats held solid while surviving seven straight game points to knot the game at 24 then tallied three more to take the it 27-25.
Trailing two games to one for the first time this season against a Class 2-A opponent, the Wranglers faced a defining moment and played excellent team volleyball to build a 20-13 lead. Fegler and Annika Dechert set the ball well, while Kelly McAuslan and Ericka Eckley both served well and played excellent back-row defense.
The Shoshoni front line didn't drive the ball as hard but picked up key points off blocks by Thompson, Pickinpaugh and Pingetzer to knot the match at two games with a 25-17 win.
"They all stepped up well," Mills said. "They gave us a good team effort."
Shoshoni led start to finish in the abbreviated fifth game, taking an early 6-2 lead and allowing the Bobcats to get only one time at 10-9. Pickinpaugh carried the Wranglers offensively in the final game with Goff once again drilling the ball and Fegler snaking in hard serves just inches above the net.
Shoshoni's championship is the first one in three decades for the school. The Wranglers tallied a second-place finish at the state tournament in 1982.
Shoshoni opens state tournament play against fourth-seeded Wright from the east at 3 p.m. Thursday on court 2A at the Casper Events Center.
The Wranglers beat the Panthers in early season tournament action back in August.
"We have to come to play," Mills said.
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