CASPER — The first one is out of the way.
Top-ranked Laramie High School picked up an always difficult quarterfinal win Thursday, topping Evanston in straight sets 25-23, 26-24, 25-20 in the Wyoming Class 4A state volleyball tournament to advance to the semifinals today where it will face Cheyenne East at 4:30 p.m. at the Casper Events Center.
“The first match is always the hardest getting used to the place,” Laramie coach Becky Baker said. “We have a little mental thing about Evanston because they knocked us out (of the winner’s bracket) the last two years.
“For us to come and — even though it wasn’t perfect — come and take care of business in three and get that win is really going to help steamroll us moving forward.”
The first set was telling in just how close the entire match would be.
Neither team led by more than three points as the two sides traded leads throughout. Laramie finally grabbed the lead for good at 21-20 as senior Jennifer Aadland’s tip at the net found the ground. Kills from seniors Maia Edwards and Aadland and junior Ashlyn Titensor helped Laramie force set point at 24-21 before closing it out with a 25-23 win.
The Lady Plainsmen had a come-from-behind win in the second set, which seems to be this team’s signature.
Evanston looked to even the match at 1-1 as it surged late to take a 22-17 lead. Laramie had its largest lead of the match, 14-6, earlier in the set before the Lady Red Devils came storming back.
Trailing 17-15, Evanston rattled off seven straight points, aided by three consecutive kills from 5-foot-10 junior Ajohanna Archuleta, to take control.
After a timeout to settle the team, the Lady Plainsmen quickly went to work.
A trio of kills from Edwards as well as another from senior Katie Welniak and an ace from Aadland were all part of a 7-1 run that helped Laramie regain the lead 24-23.
Evanston would tie it at 24-all with another Archuleta kill, but a side out followed by a kill from Welniak closed the set.
“I can’t tell you why they’re this way, but when that pressure comes on, that is when this team comes alive,” Baker said. “When you’re backed against the wall and need to make a play, they make that play every time.”
Laramie came out with a heavy dose of Edwards to start the third set, feeding the Weber State-commit early and often as she powered down three early kills — two from the middle and another rolling to the right side — to help Laramie take an early 5-0 advantage.
“Volleyball is such a game of momentum and different kids are on different days,” Baker said. “As soon as we figured out Maia was having that day, we knew we had to get her the ball. Luckily our passing really turned on so we were able to hit her on everything.
“For her to come in aggressive for us and kind of give us that boost start ... was great.”
The Plainsmen kept a comfortable advantage throughout the set, extending its lead to as large as 16-9 at one point and never allowing Evanston to get closer than four points as they closed out the Red Devils and exorcised the demons that haunted them the previous two seasons.
Aadland led Laramie with 14 kills while Welniak reached double digits with 13 of her own and Edwards added nine.
Laramie must supplant three-time defending state champion East in order to complete its own dream of hoisting a state championship plaque Saturday.
Lady Longhorns fall in opener
Rock River is still looking for that elusive first win at the state volleyball tournament.
The Lady Longhorns (18-12) lost 3-0 to No. 3-ranked Little Snake River on Thursday at the Class 1A state tournament in Casper.
The Lady Rattlers won 25-15, 25-16, 25-16 to advance to a semifinal matchup at 6 p.m. today against Cokeville.
Rock River, playing in its third state volleyball tournament, will play Hanna-Elk Mountain at 2:30 p.m. in a loser-out match. Hanna-Elk Mountain lost 3-0 to Cokeville. The Lady Longhorns went 0-2 in their other two state tourney appearances.
No other details of the match were available.