Lady Devils headed back to state

Members of the EHS volleyball team rush the court after beating quadrant rival Star Valley 3-1 Thursday at the 4A West Regional Tournament. The Lady Devils finished the tournament with a 3-1 record, and are now the No. 3 seed heading into Saturday’s 4A State Tournament in Casper. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

One year ago, the Evanston High School volleyball team found itself on the outside looking in, missing out on a berth in the 4A State Volleyball Tournament for the first time since 2014.

Fast-forward to this season, and the Lady Devils are back in the thick of things, thanks to a 3-1 record at the 4A West Regional Tournament over the weekend. Evanston shook off a semi-final loss to Natrona County Saturday to finish third, earning the No. 3 seed for next weekend’s state tournament in Casper.

“I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little disappointed,” said EHS head coach Tera Lawlar. “I really thought we could take Natrona. But I’m incredibly proud of the fight and the grit they showed in winning in three against Star Valley for the third seed.”

This year’s regional tournament — hosted by Evanston — had a different look than in years past, with the top seeds in the Northwest and Southwest quadrants hosting a quadrant tournament Thursday. The top two teams from each quadrant then traveled to Evanston Saturday to determine seeding for state.

Evanston swept Green River in three sets (25-14, 25-7, 25-15) in Thursday’s opener, punching their ticket to state. The Lady Devils then downed Star Valley in four sets (25-22, 19-25, 25-20, 25-16) to claim the top seed in the quadrant.

The home team stumbled in Saturday’s semi-final, losing a five-set thriller to Natrona County, the No. 2 seed out of the Northwest (25-13, 23-25, 25-17, 22-25, 11-15). The loss pitted the Lady Devils against Star Valley in the third-place game, with Evanston taking out their frustrations on the Lady Braves with a 3-0 sweep (25-18, 25-20, 25-17).

“This weekend we swung big all the time,” said Lady Devils senior Taylor Peterson. “No matter what point in the game it was, we wanted the point. Not only did we swing big, we were super scrappy. Nothing hit the floor without a body hitting the ground with it.”

The Lady Devils will open play at the 4A State Volleyball Championships Saturday morning, with a 10 a.m. contest against Kelly Walsh, the No. 2 seed out of the East.

“We’ll watch film on Kelly Walsh — they’re going to be hard to beat,” Lawlar said. “This is a big week. We’re still figuring out what practice is going to look like this week. We’ll go over logistics, what to expect on Saturday.”

Lady Devils 3,

Green River 0

In their regional opener, the Lady Devils (12-8-1) made short work of the competition, sweeping the 1-15 Lady Wolves in three sets, 25-14, 25-7, 25-15. The match may have appeared to be a walk for Evanston on paper, but for the Lady Devils’ head coach, it was anything but.

“I was far more nervous for the Green River game than any of the others,” Lawlar said. “In volleyball, momentum is crazy, and sometimes you have a comedy of errors — the ball just does everything against you. I would hate to have had our season end because of something like that, where the game just gets away from you. Anything can happen. So the Green River game was a huge sigh of relief — you never know what you’re going to get from them.”

Emily Freeland led the Lady Devils in kills with 13, followed by Stacia Barker with nine. Taryn Holt finished with five, while Mia Barker added four.

Stacia Barker and Holt led the team in blocks with five and three, respectively. Freeland led the team in digs with seven, followed by Mia Barker with four.

“Taryn Holt is definitely stepping up big time,” Lawlar said. “She had a great tournament.”

As is the case in any home game for Evanston, the home crowd was into it from the beginning to the end.

“The atmosphere in our gym made it easy to bring a lot of energy,” Freeland said. “When we play with a lot of energy we play better.”

Lady Devils 3,

Star Valley 1

With a berth at state already in hand, the Lady Devils squared off against Star Valley for Southwest Quadrant bragging rights, marking the third time the two teams have met this season.

Evanston overcame a 5-0 deficit to start the game, and held off a late charge by the Lady Braves to win the first set 25-22. Star Valley rallied to win the second set 25-19, but the Lady Devils responded with a 25-20 win in the third set. Evanston jumped out to a quick lead in the fourth set and kept their foot on the gas, winning the set — and the match — 25-16.

“When the girls were watching the Star Valley/Jackson game, they were assessing the teams pretty wisely,” Lawlar said. “Their volleyball IQ is amazing. Star Valley has good setters, good hitters, but when they can’t get the ball to their hitters, they struggle, like any team does.”

Natrona County 3,

Lady Devils 2

Looking to stay undefeated on their home court, the Lady Devils instead found themselves in a battle against Natrona County in Saturday’s semifinal contest. When the dust finally settled, the Fillies had earned a hard-fought, five-set victory, dropping Evanston into the third-place match.

The Lady Devils — 3-1 winners of the first meeting of these two teams back in September — cruised to a 25-15 win in the first set, and appeared to have the match in hand. But the Fillies came to play, winning the second set 25-23.

The third set was as exciting as it gets, with Evanston battling back from an 11-2 deficit with a 23-6 run to win 25-17.

“Baylie Critchfield’s serving in that second set was incredible,” Lawlar said. “It was great that the girls fought back, and I loved the fact that they didn’t give up — that’s a lot of points against a good team. It was a good fight.”

Natrona again responded, taking the fourth set 25-22; the Fillies carried that momentum into the fifth and deciding set, holding on for the 15-11 win.

“I thought we did some really great things [against Natrona] in the first set — it was just working for us,” Lawlar said. “Obviously, in the second set it wasn’t, then in the third set, we were down 14-3. To be able to fight back and get that win. I think if we had not allowed such a deficit that we had to fight back from, we would have had more left in the tank to finish it off in the fourth or fifth set.”

Lady Devils 3,

Star Valley 0

After suffering their first loss of the season on their home floor to Natrona, Lady Devils head coach Tera Lawlar was concerned abouthow her team would respond. Evanston had to once again square off with Star Valley, this time to see who would go into the state tournament as the No. 3 seed.

“Natrona was a big game — it was a tough loss for all of us,” said libero Baylie Critchfield. “But Coach Lawlar helped us keep in mind that Star Valley was just as big of a game so that we wouldn’t have to go in as the fourth seed at state. The main talk she gave us before the game was just that we needed to leave whatever happened against Natrona behind, and focus on the new game coming.”

Determined to make a statement, the Lady Devils did exactly that, sweeping the Lady Braves in three sets 25-18, 25-20, 25-17.

“The good teams do that — they play a team multiple times with success,” Lawlar explained. “So we challenged the girls. We told them, ‘Yeah, this won’t be easy, but you go big.’ We may have been the beneficiary of them [Star Valley] having to play back-to-back games, but that’s the nature of the way the tournament is set up — when you earn the No. 1 seed, you get that rest in-between.”

“Star Valley is a good team — they have a lot of weapons,” Lawlar added. “I’m glad that we were able to get our heads back on, and look at the big picture, and prepare ourselves the best way that we could for next week.”

Taylor Petersen agreed.

“None of us wanted to go into state as the fourth seed,” she said. “We realized the way we could beat Star Valley for a fourth time was playing as a team the entire time.”

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