SHERIDAN — Any and all momentum the Sheridan College volleyball team carried into the Region IX Tournament evaporated at the sound of the first whistle Wednesday afternoon. Then, as quickly as they lost it, the Lady Generals gained it all back to take an easy 3-1 (19-25, 25-16, 25-12, 25-14) victory in the tournament’s opener.
Sheridan came into the tournament on a two-match winning streak, both straight-set victories and one against the same Western Wyoming team it would face Wednesday. The Lady Generals had only two other winning streaks during the regular season — a three-game run Sept. 1 and 2 and back-to-back wins Oct. 6 and 7.
It was important for head coach Jennifer Stadler and her team to bring positive energy to the tournament, and two wins to close the regular season were thought to do the trick.
But nerves struck.
It was do-or-die time for the Lady Generals, and they were hosting the tournament on their home floor. Those nerves burst through right away, and a first-set 25-19 loss had Sheridan fans collectively scratching their heads.
“They were just bombing stuff out of bounds, and I chalk that down to nerves,” Stadler said.
Western scored the first seven points of the match. The lead quickly jumped to 10 and reached its pinnacle at 19-8. Sheridan was able to fight off a few points, but Western controlled the whole way.
But the first set was a fluke. Sheridan struggled to respond to early deficits throughout the season, but confidence broke through at the right time for the Lady Generals.
The next three sets completely flipped, and Sheridan dominated.
After Western took a couple points in the second set, an Ally Gates block gave Sheridan its first lead of the match at 3-2. The Lady Generals scored the next seven points and never looked back, taking a 25-16 win.
“Once they got (the nerves) out of the way, they realized, ‘OK, we’re alright,’” Stadler said. “They rolled with it.”
Finishing had become a problem for SC this season, too. Even in matches the Lady Generals led, they rarely stretched that lead all the way to the finish line. Wednesday, they put the pedal to the floor.
In the third set, a 25-12 blowout, Sheridan closed things out at the net. Ashlee Purcella sent home a kill to make it 22-12. Then, after a long rally with some diving digs by libero Hannah Lloyd — who had 25 digs — Ally Gates put away a monster kill. Purcella and Mykalia Jensen blocked a Western spike, and Gates sealed the deal with another kill.
The aggressive attack set the two teams apart.
While Western earned many of its points on the defensive side — thanks in part to softer approaches from Sheridan — the Lady Generals were at their best when leaving little to be desired at the net.
It all started with outside hitter Maranda Koch. The sophomore went perfect on the match with 14 kills and zero errors. Her coach called it a “lights out” performance.
Middle hitter Miranda Gallagher also had seven kills to go with five blocks as Sheridan got even more defensive as the match went on, as well. The Lady Generals weren’t going to make anything easy for their opponent after the first set.
Sheridan finished the match with 51 kills.
“We’re not a very good off-speed team,” Stadler said. “When we go up swinging to start, that gets our confidence going.”
Sheridan will need to bring an aggressive attack to its second-round matchup against top-seed Laramie County Community College. Stadler noted LCCC’s powerful blocking at the net and the Golden Eagles’ ability to put the ball away much easier than Western. Matching that aggression will be critical in keeping it close.
The Lady Generals will look to turn a match against LCCC into their longest winning streak of the season. Thursday’s match begins at 4 p.m. at the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome.