In three non-conference meetings earlier this season between the Evanston High School volleyball team and Southwest Quadrant rival Star Valley, the Lady Devils had the upper hand, winning two of the three matches.
In conference play, however, it’s been all Star Valley. The Lady Braves earned the quadrant sweep at home Tuesday with a straight-set win over an injury-laden Lady Devils squad, 25-16, 25-19, 25-11. The loss dropped Evanston to 24-8 (2-2 in quadrant play) with just two matches left in the regular season.
“We had moments where we were doing what we wanted to be doing,” said EHS head coach Tera Lawlar. “And then we had moments where Star Valley would execute. There were times where I felt like it wasn’t Star Valley beating us — we were beating ourselves. And when Star Valley put the pressure on, it was just too much.”
The Lady Devils built a 4-2 lead in set one before Star Valley (21-9, 4-0) rattled off six straight points to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Another 6-0 run by the Lady Braves late in the set made it 24-12; Evanston responded with a 4-0 run before losing set point on an error, 25-16.
“Our passing could have been a little more to pocket,” Lawlar said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity recently, and we have to figure out as a team how to overcome it.”
Set two also got off to a promising start for the Lady Devils, with Jaylie Critchfield providing a 4-0 run at the service line to give Evanston a 9-4 lead. Star Valley battled back to tie the set at 15-15, then outscored the Lady Devils 10-4 to take set two.
Set three was all Star Valley from the start, with the home team going on an 8-0 run before the Lady Devils scored their first point. Outside hitter Emily Freeland came off the course midway through the set with an undisclosed illness, and Lawlar was forced to get creative with her lineup; as a result, many of the JV players who made the trip saw their first varsity action of the season.
“We had Brinkley Francom go in, and then we had Ellie Asay, who played all of the Riverton game for Abbie Rigby — she played all of Star Valley for us, and did a really nice job,” Lawlar said. “Then we had Kaycee Kilcrease play in the back row, as well as Rylee Rusch. And then we had Kendall Fessler going in for Lily Johnson. We had just about our entire JV lineup in there at some point.”
Things didn’t get much better for Evanston from that point on, but to their credit, the Lady Devils fought tooth and nail to make it a contest.
“When the score was 14-3 in the third set, I looked out on the court, and instead of seeing a bunch of girls who looked like they wanted to go and hide, I saw a bunch of girls who were still fighting,” Lawlar said. “They were still talking about the things we needed to do. They didn’t give up. We’re down two sets, and getting creamed in the third set, and they were still able to mentally think ‘Hey, let’s fight through this.’ I told them at the very end that I didn’t see a bunch of girls looking scared and wanting to run — I saw girls that were willing to do whatever they could. That’s a win, and I’ll take it, because I appreciate that.”
The third set — and the match — ended with a 25-11 score, though Lawlar said there were some aspects of the match she was encouraged by.
“Our outsides were having a nice match prior to Emily [Freeland] having to come off the floor,” Lawlar said. “Mia Barker came ready to play — we came in with a game plan, and Mia just stuck to it. Even though it was ugly, we still did some good things.”
Freeland led the team in kills with eight, adding a block as well; Mia Barker followed with three kills and two aces. Stacia Barker finished with two kills, while Jaylie Critchfield led the team in aces, with three.
There are just two games left on the regular-season schedule, and Evanston will host both — a conference game against Green River Thursday, and a conference game against Jackson October 23.
“I think you learn from your losses — I told them right after, ‘OK, it’s done,’” Lawlar said. “We can’t dwell, we have a quick turnaround before Thursday [against Green River]. We’ll figure this out. We’ll put this behind us, and move forward — focus on what we need to focus on.”
Lawlar said she was hoping to have a couple of her injured players back for Green River, though the team is prepared to play without them, if need be.
“Abbie [Rigby] might be ready to go — we’ll put her through a full practice on Wednesday, and see how her ankle is doing,” Lawlar said. “If not, we’ll give her the extra time to get ready for Jackson on the 23rd. Emily is day-to-day, we’ll have a better idea later this week.”
Asked if it was a somber ride home from Afton, Lawlar said her players were deserving of praise, and she made sure they knew that.
“I told them on the way home, ‘Thank you for not giving up and quitting — you guys could have easily disassociated yourselves, and instead, I saw kids with more fight and drive than I see at times when we’re up,’” Lawlar said. “I wanted to make sure they knew I appreciated that, because that’s character. That’s a hard thing to do, and I was really impressed with that. When the going got tough, they didn’t bail — they played for each other.”