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Thunder Basin Bolts falter in championship game heartbreaker

After dropping the first two sets of their state championship game against Laramie, the Thunder Basin Bolts fought all the way back to force a decisive fifth set.

Thunder Basin libero Reece Mcgrath stretches to dig the ball in her team's championship game against Laramie. (Tommy Culkin, Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo. — After the Thunder Basin Bolts held on to beat Kelly Walsh High School in a state semifinal match that saw KWHS force a fifth set after dropping the first two, the Bolts on Saturday found themselves trying to make a similar comeback in the title match against the Laramie Plainsmen. As with the Trojans’ loss to the Bolts the day before, though, the Bolts’ own comeback attempt fell just short in the winner-take-all fifth set, and Thunder Basin lost 23–25, 16–25, 27–25, 25–21, 11–15.

The first set was an evenly matched, back-and-forth affair. The Bolts and Plainsmen traded kills in much of the early goings, and neither team was able to find much separation from their opponent.

A well-placed kill by senior outside hitter Sydnee Streitz gave Thunder Basin an early 5–3 lead, but Laramie evened the score up moments later. Later in the set, a kill by right-side hitter Taylee Cundy extended her team’s lead to three points, at 13–10, but again the lead didn’t last long.

That is how much of the first set went, with Laramie playing catch-up with Thunder Basin. And when the Bolts built up a 20–15 lead — their biggest lead of the entire match — the Plainsmen were forced to call timeout.

Unfortunately for the team from Gillette, Laramie’s timeout seemed to work wonders. Several efficient and perfectly placed attacks soon saw the Plainsmen even the score at 21–21. Moments later, Laramie took its first lead of the set and didn’t look back, closing it out in short order.

The second set played out as nearly a mirror image of the first. Again, the two teams remained even for much of the set. This time, however, it was Laramie that maintained a small lead for most of the set, as Thunder Basin was forced to play from behind.

Bolstering the Bolts in the set was strong play at the net by Ava Praus and Bailey Barnes, as well as some smart attacks by Kalissa Terrell, who was able to find holes in the Plainsmen defense and place the ball out of the Laramie players’ reach.

However, as the set wore on, Laramie began to pull away with some thunderous kills of its own, as the team used a cadre of long and lanky hitters and middle blockers that were able to power through Thunder Basin’s block. Ultimately, Laramie took the set with a nine-point edge, the largest lead in any set.

In a two-set hole, the Bolts no longer had any room for error. And when Laramie promptly built up a 7–2 lead in the opening moments of the third set, things began to look dire.

But the Bolts were not deterred. They quickly cut the five-point deficit to a one-point deficit at 8–7, and from that point forward the set turned into a dogfight. Aiding the team were some excellent digs by libero Reece Mcgrath and setter Piper Martin, and Martin also made things easy for Streitz, Cundy and Barnes with pinpoint sets.

Near the end of the set, Laramie hung to a 23–20 lead, but Praus returned the ball to Thunder Basin’s serve with a perfectly located tap kill. After outplaying Laramie on the next few points, Thunder Basin took a 24–23 lead and then hung on to take the set.

Riding the momentum of their third-set win, Thunder Basin kept the pressure on throughout the fourth set. Praus gave her team a 7–3 with a big kill down the line. Later, Martin extended the lead to 15–10 with a push to an empty hole in Laramie’s back row.

The Plainsmen made things a bit interesting with a late surge, but they never got closer than within two in the late stages of the set.

Having fought all the way back from a two-set disadvantage, the Bolts were determined and steeled heading into the fifth and final set of the 4A volleyball season.

“We’ve won these before,” the senior Barnes reminded her teammates in between the fourth and fifth sets, imploring her fellow Bolts to think about the first-to-15 set as “chunks of fives.”

And when Thunder Basin raced out to a quick 3–0 lead that was capped off by a kill down the line by Terrell, the Thunder Basin fans in attendance reached a raucous fever pitch.

The elation was short-lived, however, as Laramie went on a 3–0 run of its own to even things right back up.

Over the next few ensuing points, the two teams traded the lead back and forth. A wild rally that saw some stellar defensive plays by Mcgrath and Barnes eventually ended in a point for Thunder Basin when a Laramie attack finally sailed out of bounds. The point tied the game back up at 7–7, but it would be the last time in the season that the Bolts would have at least a share of the lead.

A Laramie run put the Plainsmen up 14–9, and though a pair of resilient plays by Thunder Basin cut the score to 14–11 — necessitating a Laramie timeout — the season ended in a state title for Laramie when a Thunder Basin attack fell into the net.

(Tommy Culkin, Oil City News)
(Tommy Culkin, Oil City News)