Rock River volleyball coach Heather Alexander left the team’s first practice back in mid August with one thought: her Lady Longhorns were good enough to be in the state tournament.
That thought came true last weekend when Rock River placed second in the Class 1A East Regional to qualify for the 1A State Volleyball Tournament for the second time in the last three years and just the third time since 1997.
“I knew on that first practice that there was something about them,” Alexander said. “It wasn’t necessarily their physical or athletic ability, it was more that the girls were a good bunch of girls who made up a really good team. Everything just felt right on that first day of practice.”
Rock River (18-11) face Snake River in a first-round match at 4:30 p.m. today at the Casper Events Center.
The Lady Longhorns — who missed advancing to state by one win a season ago — brought back the nucleus of that team. Rock River has two seniors in Isabella Davila and Laramie transfer Bailey Fields. Juniors include Taylor Broyles, Rory Clark-Johnson and Emma Sander.
The rest of the roster has sophomores Andreya Bedard, Annetta Broyles, Kaitlyn Cope and Lydia Moore and freshman Rachel Broyles.
Rock River placed second in the 1A Southeast Conference standings to Lingle-Fort Laramie and was seeded second for the East Regional.
The Lady Longhorns beat Arvada-Clearmont 3-1 in the first round and held off Arvada-Clearmont 3-1 in the semifinals to earn the team’s first trip to the regional final since Alexander starting coaching at the school in 2004.
Rock River won the first game against Lingle-Fort Laramie in the final before dropping the final three.
“Sometimes we don’t know how good we are and we need to get in our heads that we can play with anybody,” Alexander said. “We had never been in a championship game since I’ve been here. That was pretty special and we had a really good regional weekend.”
Rock River has been led this season by Davila at the setter spot and Moore and Clark-Johnson at the net. Clark-Johnson is the top Lady Longhorn in kills while Moore leads in blocks.
Alexander added her team isn’t just two or three top players. Most of the team has also been part of the Lady Longhorns basketball team that has qualified for state the last two seasons.
“Our team is extremely scrappy and they’re game smart,” she said. “They know and understand the game. And maybe their biggest thing is their heart. They work hard for each other, they play for each other. We don’t have one standout.”
Today’s matchup with 1A defending state champion Little Snake River will be a tough one. The Lady Rattlers finished the regular season ranked second in Class 1A before losing to No. 3 Encampment in the West Regional semifinals. Little Snake River then routed Dubois 3-0 for third place.
The two teams met once during the regular season, with the Lady Rattlers winning in three sets. But the Lady Longhorns played without Alexander on the bench and Moore on the court due to an injury.
“Little Snake River is really strong with huge hitters and blockers,” Alexander said. “If we play our game and do what we do, it’s going to be a great game.
“It’s a pretty big deal for us to make state. There’s 28 teams in the state and only eight get to go to state. To be a part of this is pretty special for a small school like us.”