SHERIDAN — Few expected the Sheridan College volleyball team to make it far in the Region IX Tournament. The Lady Generals entered the tournament the fifth seed.
Instead, the team played its best, most consistent volleyball of the season and took second place behind Laramie County Community College, one of the best teams in the country.
Sheridan played six matches in four days, ending with two consecutive matches Saturday against Northwest College and LCCC, which beat Sheridan in three sets. The runner-up finish was the best postseason result for the Lady Generals since 2005, when they won the tournament.
The Lady Generals hadn’t beaten Northwest in two tries before Saturday but didn’t have much trouble taking down the Lady Trappers in four sets (20-25, 25-17, 28-26, 25-18) to earn a spot in the championship.
After an inconsistent performance in the first set, Sheridan’s defense and outside hitting stepped up, leading to an easy second-set win. It looked like the third set wouldn’t go to extra points, as the Lady Generals led 24-20 thanks to its backline defense and many Northwest hitting errors. But the Lady Trappers rallied to score four straight points. The teams then traded kills to even the score at 26 before Ashlee Purcella finished the set with two consecutive kills.
Purcella had 12 kills and five blocks in the match. She and libero Hannah Lloyd were All-Region and All-Tournament selections. They were also named All-Conference, along with middle hitter Miranda Gallagher.
The deciding set didn’t start well for Sheridan, falling behind 10-7. Thanks to strong play at the net and more unforced errors by the Lady Trappers, though, Sheridan went on a nice run to take control 17-13. The Lady Generals kept that lead and pulled away at the end, with two Northwest errors ending the match.
It was probably Sheridan’s top overall match performance on the year, as the team peaked during the final few days of the season. Coming off an exhilarating, tiring victory, the Lady Generals had to face a rested, formidable LCCC team just 35 minutes later.
Competing with the Lady Golden Eagles has been a monumental task for most teams. For Sheridan — playing back-to-back and the fourth match in two days — the climb to the top would be steep.
For a couple minutes, it looked like the Lady Generals might use their momentum and seriously challenge LCCC, a team that had already swept them in three matches throughout the year, including once earlier in the tournament. The Lady Golden Eagles came out sloppy with several uncharacteristic errors, and Sheridan went up 6-2.
It was all LCCC after that, however. It won the first set 25-13 due to overwhelming outside hitting and defense.
Despite a tremendous Lady Golden Eagles attack, the Lady Generals didn’t cower in fear. Rather, they had an excellent chance to take the second set and at least make things interesting. Sheridan went ahead 15-9, again thanks to its defense and many hitting errors by LCCC. At one point in the set, the Lady Golden Eagles had 10 errors, and Sheridan had zero.
The Lady Generals clung to a 21-19 lead but couldn’t hold on. LCCC scored five straight points, two of which came from serving aces. The Golden Eagles put the set, and effectively the match, away with an easy kill to win 25-23.
The blown opportunity seemed to be the straw that broke the Lady Generals’ backs.
“When you lose that second set after being up, it’s hard to come back,” Sheridan head coach Jennifer Stadler said.
LCCC jumped out to an early 7-3 lead, extended it to 21-9 at, and ultimately won the third set 25-13. The Lady Golden Eagles move on to the NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas, on Nov. 16.
Sheridan finished 17-20 overall on the season. The Lady Generals will replace eight sophomores next season, some of whom played their final competitive volleyball matches this weekend.
Stadler said she will remember the positive attitudes of the players and the way they left their hearts on the floor every time.
“I haven’t been this proud of a group of girls in a while,” Stadler said.