Lady Devils volleyball back on track with 3-0 sweep of Jackson

Lady Devils Ellie Asay (left) and Savanna Nowakowski go up for a block against Jackson’s Jade Ridgway during Saturday’s 3-0 sweep of the Lady Broncs. Evanston hosts Cody Friday for Senior Night. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

Sr. Night Friday v. Cody; Riverton on Saturday

By Don Cogger
Herald Sports Editor

A highly-anticipated return to form was just what fans of the Evanston High School volleyball team were hoping for last Saturday, and with a healthy roster for the first time since the start of the season, that’s exactly what the Lady Devils provided in a 3-0 sweep of visiting Jackson.
“Jackson felt great – it’s amazing what a good win can do for morale,” said EHS head coach Tera Lawlar. “The patience and hard work is paying off; it’s what we needed. And it’s definitely something we needed heading into this week [with games scheduled against No. 3 Cody and Riverton], because we have some tough matches coming up.”
The Lady Devils improved their record to 6-24 (1-4 in 4A West play) on the season, one that’s been plagued with injuries from the start. With a roster that, at times, has looked like an advertisement for knee braces, crutches and walking boots, having the team back to (nearly) full strength for the Jackson match was an occasion to celebrate. After winning a tight first set 25-23, Evanston settled into a groove for sets two and three, winning 25-18 and 25-13.
Lawlar said she hopes it’s the start of a memorable run to close out the regular season for the Lady Devils.
“I have a friend who watches all the games on streaming, and he keeps telling me, ‘You just wait, [this season] is a story, it has a good ending. Just stay with it, hang with it, I promise,’” Lawlar said, laughing. “He’s very confident. He texted me after the first set, and said, ‘That’s one – this is where the novel gets good. It’s starting to turn around, and you can feel it.’ I just laughed, because the first set was still kind of close, but we were competing. We were in it. And this was the first time I was really able to see where we’ve improved. It was very satisfying to see us do some things we’ve been working on, not to mention that everyone was healthy and had the go-ahead to play. That felt great. To me, it’s a win, that the girls are fighting through all that.”
Serving was a high point of the match, with six aces. Halle Brady led the charge in attacking with 17 kills, followed by Kendall Fessler with seven and six apiece from Brinkley Francom and Savanna Nowakowski. Brady also led the team in blocks with four, followed by three from Fessler and two from Ellie Asay.
“Our serving I thought was pretty effective – we didn’t miss very many, at all,” Lawlar said. “I think we had two service errors the entire match, as well as six or seven aces. And if they weren’t aces, we still kept them out of system with tough serving. That felt fabulous.”
Because of the litany of injuries the Lady Devils have faced this season, they’ve been forced to be creative with how they play; that won’t change, now that the team is reasonably healthy.
“Our hitting efficiency – because we are pretty battered as a team, long rallies don’t work in our favor,” Lawlar explained. “Because of that, we have to learn to be savvy and get that ball on the floor, even if it’s not a big swing. So the girls are starting to put a lot of the little things together that we’ve been talking about, and that’s great to see.”
As for managing expectations, Lawlar said her players have learned to keep things in perspective – not every match is going to be one for the books.
“Halle [Brady] had 17 kills in that match – but sometimes you get 17 kills, and sometimes you get four,” Lawlar said about managing expectations. “We tell the girls, ‘If you’re not getting sets, go be a blocking machine. Or make sure you get your digs. Step it up in other places.’ We’re finally getting to conversations that honestly probably should have happened at the beginning of September. It just makes me realize how delayed we are, because of everything else we’ve had to deal with when it comes to injuries.”
As the team has slowly recovered, signs have been there that hard work and patience are beginning to pay off.
“At the Casper Invite – even though we went 1-4 there – we were in a couple of those matches, pretty close,” Lawlar said. “I think the girls realized that, hey, we’re close to something here. For me to see them realize that it’s finally coming together – because of their hard work, and the fact that they haven’t given up on each other, or themselves – it’s pretty special.”
The Lady Devils host Cody Friday, and will honor their seniors before the match. Saturday, Evanston will welcome in Riverton for the annual Pink-Out match.
“We’re expecting Cody to come out hot and quick, and we know we’re definitely not on anyone’s radar,” Lawlar said. “My expectation is that we work hard, we compete and we fight. We have the expectation to better how we played against Jackson, and to improve what we did against them.”