Though you wouldn’t know it by the latest WyoPreps volleyball poll, the Evanston High School volleyball team is on the verge of a 4A Southwest Quadrant title, courtesy of a 3-1 win over rival Star Valley Tuesday at Red Devils Gym.
With the win, the Lady Devils improve to 10-8-1 (4-0 in Southwest Quadrant), and can clinch the quadrant title with a win at Green River Thursday. EHS head volleyball coach Tera Lawlar compared the atmosphere of Tuesday’s win over the Lady Braves (12-6-1, 2-2 in Southwest Quadrant) to that of a postseason tournament, with the Lady Devils feeding off the energy of their raucous, devoted fan base.
“Our fans were amazing,” she said. “Those kids brought an energy that we totally needed. The girls fed off that energy, it was a lot of fun. We told the girls during a timeout, ‘They [the student section] are working so hard for us, we’ve got to work hard back.’ It was really something.”
As is often the case when these two teams meet, it was a battle from the opening serve. Battling almost point-for-point in the first two sets, the Lady Devils were able to put runs together when it counted, winning the first set 25-22, and the second set 25-23.
“We knew we had to play better defense — Star Valley doesn’t really tip, they just hit big,” Lawlar explained. “They go big a lot, and they have a lot of hitters from a lot of different angles and positions. And they’re not afraid to use them.”
Star Valley got hot early in the third, and were able to hold off a late charge by the Lady Devils to squeak out a 25-23 win. It was the first set Evanston had lost at home all season, and Lawlar knew how her team responded in the fourth set would set the tone for the team moving forward.
“That fourth set defined us, I think,” she explained. “We hadn’t dropped a set at home until that point. Bailey Critchfield kind of took over, and I told the girls we were going to take our time going back on to the court for the start of the fourth. I told them, ‘This is our terms, our court. Own it.’”
The Lady Devils did exactly that, jumping out to a quick 8-4 lead. The Lady Braves battled back to pull within one at 11-10, but a four-point run led by Mia Barker at the service line took the wind out of Star Valley’s sails. The Lady Braves would score just four more points in the set, as Evanston won the set — and the match — 25-14.
“I think our serving was definitely working, because we kept them out of system,” Lawlar said. “Their No. 3 [McKenna Brog] and No. 35 [Mia Hutchinson] are both big hitters — 3 jumps so well, and visually, she’s such a big hitter. And 35 has such a big arm. They make a nice one-two. Our serving, to keep them out of system, was crucial. They have too good of hitters to allow easy balls to get to their hitters. I think that was the most crucial part of the game.”
Emily Freeland led the Lady Devils with 14 kills, followed by Stacia Barker with 11. Taryn Holt added five kills, while Mia Barker finished with three.
Stacia Barker and Holt both had monster games at the net, finishing with nine blocks apiece.
“Stacia and Taryn did a great job of owning the net,” Lawlar said. “When our blocking game picked up — I love the ‘Block Party’ cheer. It just kind of fed on itself. Stacia and Taryn did a really nice job of getting to the pin players and closing.”
Lawlar was also pleased with the defensive play of Taylor Petersen.
“I think Taylor Petersen’s defense was the best she’s played all season long, without a doubt,” Lawlar said. “Watching film on Star Valley, they abuse the right side, and that’s Taylor and Kenzie [Porter]. Them playing well was huge for us.”
Libero Baylie Critchfield led the team with 15 digs, followed by Freeland with 13.
“On serve/receive, Baylie just owned the back row with leadership,” Lawlar said. “She was in control of what needed to happen. She has a very good view from where she’s at to direct traffic, and she did it, and did it well.”
Critchfield, Mackenzie Porter and Holt each had two aces apiece, but the star of the night at the service line was Mia Barker.
“Mia led again in serving for our team — obviously, that’s a good rotation,” Lawlar said. “Mia is getting it done with whatever crazy serve she has going on. It’s working, and she was consistent.”
The Lady Devils are unbeaten in quadrant play, with matches against Green River and Jackson yet to play to close out the regular season. The regular-season sweep of Star Valley was huge in terms of playoff implications, and should the two meet again at regionals, Lawlar said her team will be ready.
“We know our defense had to be on — we knew it would be the name of the game,” Lawlar said. “We’ve been working on it more. Star Valley is driven to go big every single time, and they will beat you on hitting big. We knew that was their game plan, so we were prepared for it. To have an idea of where they were going and being able to put our kids in the right spot definitely helped.”
“I told the girls when we were 1-4, and it was loss, loss, loss, that I don’t really care about the record — I care where we end up,” she added. “Trust the process, get better and raise the bar. We raised our bar Tuesday night.”