Thunder Basin advances to Friday’s state semifinals

Thunder Basin senior Hannah Durgin takes aim at the Star Valley defense during Thursday's state quarterfinal match. (Photo courtesy of Kellie Jo Allison photography)

The Thunder Basin High School volleyball team opened the 4A state tournament like a team hungry for a championship. Big defense, clutch hitting and dominance at the net sent TBHS to a 25-16, 25-16, 26-28, 25-21 victory over Star Valley in the Wyoming High School Activities Association’s (WHSAA) state quarterfinals Thursday in Casper.

The win sends the Bolts (25-10) into one of their biggest matches of the program’s short history as they will face Laramie (29-2), the No. 1 team in Wyoming, in Friday’s semifinal showdown at 4:30 p.m., which will broadcast live at nfhsnetwork.com. The winner of the match will advance to the state championship Saturday at 4 p.m., while the loser will battle for third place at 2 p.m., with both matches also broadcast live.

As for the Star Valley clash, Thunder Basin was solid from the start. Senior setter Taylor Hamilton served up an ace on the first play of the match and that set the tone for a fast and furious beginning.

Bolts senior Taylor Hamilton shows her agility while setting up her teammate for an attack against Star Valley. (Photo courtesy of Kellie Jo Allison Photography)

The Bolts went up 4-0 thanks to a couple SVHS hitting errors. The Braves (24-10) snapped the run, but it didn’t slow TBHS as kills courtesy of Hannah Durgin and Risa Pilon spurred the team to a 9-2 lead and forced a Star Valley timeout.

The break in action helped a little as the Braves managed to trim the deficit to five. However, some big defensive plays by Ellie Thomas and Kinley Solem put the team back on track for an easy win as SVHS committed three straight hitting errors to end the first set.

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Thunder Basin did not slow down in the second stanza. Hamilton opened with another ace and the team never trailed. In fact, TBHS did not trail in the match until the third set.

Meanwhile, Joelie Spelts, Brooke Carroll and Thomas fired away at Star Valley with swings from the outside which fueled the team to a 19-12 lead and forced another Braves timeout.

The stoppage didn’t help. Led by Durgin, Pilon and Thomas, the Bolts scored six of the final nine points to win the set and move one away from a sweep.

Thunder Basin remained consistent and scored the first point again in the third frame thanks to a kill via Thomas. This time the Braves did not allow TBHS to build a big led early and it made a difference as TBHS trailed for the first time in the match at 5-4.

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The Bolts met the challenge and pelted SVHS with four straight kills to take their biggest lead of the set at 15-7. After that, Star Valley used a couple of unforced errors and dinks at the net to chip away at the deficit and eventually tie things up at 15-15.

Neither team led by more than two points after that as they traded big play after big play. The front work by Spelts and Pilon allowed TBHS to tie things up at 21-21, 25-25 and 26-26. The momentum stopped there as SVHS scored on a stuffed block and an ace to get the win and avoid the sweep.

The Bolts took care of business in the fourth set. After failing behind the only time in the set at 5-4, they buckled down defensively and offensively to shut down Star Valley. A stuff by Pilon and another kill via Durgin allowed Thunder Basin to take a 14-7 lead that was never lost.

The Braves pulled within four points on a couple of occasions, but it did not stop Thunder Basin from stamping its ticket to the state semifinals today.