SHERIDAN — The top-seeded Laramie County Community College Golden Eagles were too much for the Sheridan Lady Generals Thursday evening.
After a clean sweep of 4-seed Western Wyoming Wednesday, fifth-seeded Sheridan had a much tougher hill to climb in the second round of the Region IX Tournament. LCCC took the match in straight sets (25-22, 25-16, 25-19).
Laramie County came into Thursday’s match with a 29-6 record and lost just one match within the Region IX North all season. The Golden Eagles beat Sheridan twice during the regular season — both straight-setters — and haven’t lost since a five-setter against Northwest Oct. 6. In fact, LCCC has only dropped one set since that loss — 10 wins.
The Lady Generals certainly didn’t roll over and had the Golden Eagles on their heels at times, especially in the first set.
Sheridan went down early. The host team started in a 3-0 hole and trailed by five multiple times, including 19-14.
But even as that lead hovered around four or five, Sheridan was on the brink of tightening the race. The 19-14 lead came only after Miranda Gallagher missed putting blocks away by inches on back-to-back plays.
Eventually, those close plays became points.
Gallagher spiked one away to make it a 19-17 game. The Lady Generals chipped away: 21-19; 21-20; 22-21 and then a tie at 22. Sheridan appeared to have all the momentum.
But LCCC holds the 1-seed for a reason. If you have them on the ropes, you have to throw the haymaker, and you have to make sure it lands. Sheridan couldn’t deliver the knockout blow, and the Golden Eagles spiked their way to three-straight points to hang on and win the set.
“I thought we played well,” Sheridan coach Jennifer Stadler said after the match. “I just thought we missed a couple things at key points and let them go on runs at the end.”
The late runs didn’t stop after set one, either.
Sheridan jumped to small lead, and the two sides traded points for the first half of the second set. The Lady Generals were down 13-12, but a serve went long and LCCC took over. The Golden Eagles went on an 11-4 run after the missed serve to easily take the set.
Errors hurt Sheridan throughout the match, and giving free points to a team as good as Laramie County is a tough pill to swallow. But Stadler pointed out that the miscues caused far less damage than defensive lapses.
The coach knew coming in that Laramie’s attack would be much more aggressive than that of Western Wyoming’s the night before, and to counter that attack, Sheridan needed to make plays in the back row to set up equally as aggressive swings on their side of the net.
That defense never really caught rhythm, and LCCC’s heavy hitters inflicted gobs of damage.
The Golden Eagles jumped to a quick 8-1 lead in the final set. Sheridan rallied to tie it at 10, but the early deficit made it hard for the Lady Generals to gain momentum.
Again, Laramie went on a late run to force Sheridan to play from behind, and it was too much to overcome.
“We didn’t pass well, so we weren’t able to have an efficient offense,” Stadler said. “In order to be a good team, you have to have an efficient offense.”
The loss bumped Sheridan down to the bottom half of the bracket, meaning one more loss ends the season for good. The Lady Generals take on Eastern Wyoming in a do-or-die matchup Friday. Sheridan and Eastern split the regular-season series, each winning on its home floor in straight sets.
Stadler hopes Thursday’s loss lit a fire under her players.
“I didn’t think we had as much energy as last night or in games past,” Stadler said about the LCCC loss. “Eastern rolls on their momentum, so we need to come out matching or with more energy than what they are bringing to the gym.”
Friday’s match begins at 2 p.m. at the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome. If Sheridan wins, it plays another match at 6 p.m. to keep the season alive.