CHEYENNE – Shae Halls knew tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee was going to limit her during her junior volleyball season.

Halls, now a senior, still played a valuable role for Cheyenne East, coming off the bench to thunder serves and play defense in the back row. She still excels at both, but is now playing outside hitter for the Lady Thunderbirds.

“She came back from that ACL injury and worked super hard during the off-season,” East coach Nicole Quigley said. “She is one of our most consistent players all the way around.

“She outworks everyone, has a big heart and wants to win. She is super important for this team.”

The T-Birds open the Class 4A state tournament against Riverton at 3 p.m. today at the Casper Events Center.

Halls had surgery to repair her torn ACL in October 2017. She wore a brace when she started the season, but ditched it midway through the year.

“I felt like it was holding me back in some ways,” she said. “After you tear your ACL once, it’s always in your head that you’re going to tear it again. I thought I needed to wear it. It was a completely mental thing.

“Now, I’m good. I don’t need it on, and I don’t want any part of it anymore.”

Halls knew there were still skills she needed to hone, even though she was somewhat limited by her knee injury during her junior campaign. She set out to become an even stronger passer and hitter during the season she spent with the Windy City Juniors club team.

“I strive to be an all-around player, so that’s what I set out to become during the club season,” she said.

Halls – who has been home-schooled since fifth grade – has contributed to the T-Birds in many ways this fall. Her 55 aces are the most of any player on East’s roster, her 127 kills are fourth-best, and her 219 digs are tied for fourth-most.

“She is probably the quietest person on our team, but she is deadly,” senior middle hitter Madison Blaney said. “She is so reserved off the court, but she is really aggressive on it. She isn’t tall, but she plays really big outside.”

At 5-foot-6, Halls isn’t the most imposing player at the net. She makes up for her lack of size in other ways.

“I always say the best hitters aren’t the hardest hitters, they’re the smartest hitters,” Halls said. “I try to be really smart with my hitting. I don’t want to take any time I’m handling the ball for granted.

“My serving, passing and hitting are really important to me.”

That Halls leads the T-Birds in aces comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen her serve. The sound of her right hand hitting the ball is attention-grabbing. Her serves often clear the net by mere inches.

Halls’ serves are difficult to return, which helps East grab momentum with runs.

“I have been jump serving for a really long time, and that has helped me become a good server,” Halls said. “I stood to serve the first two years I played volleyball, and then started jump serving after that.

“I have worked hard to find the weakest passers on the other team and just go after them and make them move their feet. I take a lot of pride in my serving.”

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137.

Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.

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