EVANSTON — State championships are very special and should be celebrated. Undefeated seasons are on a whole other level. They include a state championship and oh, so much more.
The Lyman Lady Eagles accomplished their goal of a state volleyball title, but the way in which they did so is extraordinary. A 36-0 record. Impressive in its own right, right?
What the Lady Eagles recently accomplished becomes even more impressive, almost unbelievable, actually, when put into context.
Lyman High School can boast of three undefeated seasons in the past couple of decades, give or take a few years. As previously mentioned in the Herald, Scott Ehlers guided the 1995 Lady Eagles basketball team to a perfect season en route to a state championship back in 1995.
Lyman Eagles football retaliated, after a 10-2 season state title loss to Lovell in 2012, to exact revenge in 2013, with a 22-20 win over the Bulldogs, to cap off a perfect 12-0 campaign.
Take nothing away from the 2013 2A state champs in football or the miraculous Lady Eagles basketball team of 1994-95, but the 2018 volleyball state championship was extra special. Why?
Undefeated football seasons happen. Look back on state records and you will find a number of teams have managed that feat, even in the current millennium. It becomes much rarer on the basketball hardwood, due in no small part, to the number of games played. It’s doubled. So, 24 games as opposed to 12 for football.
Lyman volleyball won 36 games, but think of it in volleyball terms. Ordinarily, a match is comprised of up to five sets or games; in preseason competition, it may be a best of three, as opposed to a regular season best of five.
Lyman won the majority of its contests in three sets — 26 of 30, during the preseason and regular season. Using that as a statistical gauge or aggregate, Lady Eagles volleyball only separated itself from the competition to the tune of 108-0. Sure, they lost a few sets along the way, but never a match. If you extend that to all five-game set matches, Lyman would wallop the competition, 180-0.
Again, they lost some sets. Arch rival Mountain View took the Lady Eagles to task twice, early in the Cokeville tournament championship, and again in the 3A West regional tournament, yet Lyman ultimately triumphed on both occasions.
Lyman’s biggest challenge, perhaps unbeknownst to them or anyone else, awaited the Lady Eagles on the biggest stage of their perfect season, in the 3A title match.
Thirty and zero entering the 3A West Conference regional tournament. Lyman opens with and sweeps Lovell (25-8, 25-10, 25-11). They sweep Pinedale (25-14, 25-22, 25-21) and are set to face a team with more impetus to knock them off than anyone, and a talented, top-5 ranked team to boot. Mountain View and Lyman went all five sets, but Lyman wins on the Lady Buffs’ floor (25-17, 26-28, 24-26, 25-19, 15-10) and are headed to state at 33-0.
First came Torrington on Nov. 1, and a 3-0 sweep was the result (25-13, 25-1, 25-11). Lyman then faced last year’s 3A state champion in the Lady Bearcats of Douglas. A close first set, but yet another sweep (28-26, 25-12, 25-12). That’s now 30 out of 35 resulting in sweeps if you’re keeping score — a few 2-0 victories in best of three competitions, but the majority were 3-0 in best of five matches in the Lady Eagles’ dominating season.
Then came Rawlins, for the 3A state crown.
“We had never really had our backs against the wall,” head coach Brecia Hansen said.
“We got by Douglas, who is a very solid, very good team, rather easily, so I didn’t know what to expect the following day,” Hansen told the Herald.
Lyman had previously defeated Rawlins in tournament play (21-8, 21-19) in Rawlins, but that was back on Sept. 8.
Rawlins managed to go 31-4 prior to squaring off against Lyman with victories over more than a handful of Wyoming 4A teams, including state runner-up Laramie, who bested the Lady Outlaws twice, but Rawlins did notch a victory over Laramie. Their only other losses were to Rapid City, South Dakota, Stevens. Rawlins narrowly lost their third meeting with Laramie to close out September but arrived with a 10-game win streak for the showdown with Lyman.
It was all Lady Outlaws in the beginning, winning 25-21 and 25-20, to take a two-set advantage in the best of five. Unfamiliar territory for Lyman. Coach Hansen tweaked her lineup and her team rallied.
“We played tight in the first set and that was unusual for us,” Hansen stated.
“We passed much better in the second set, but couldn’t seem to establish our rhythm. We hadn’t had a match like that all season. We were down two games to nothing and we were getting worked,” Hansen added.
The Lyman coach continued.
“We didn’t play great in those first two sets and they (Rawlins) played fantastic. It’s not surreal to me that we won the state championship. I knew we had the kids to do that. It’s the way we came back that was surreal. That’s the part that’s mind-blowing. I thought at some point they would have to stop playing so well and we would begin to take advantage, but Rawlins didn’t. They played awesome. It was great to have to battle for it as we did, it really was.”
The 1A, 2A and 4A volleyball championships were all complete and coach Hansen said the other six teams and their fan bases stuck around to watch Lyman and Rawlins battle.
“All eyes were on us,” Hansen said of the electric atmosphere of the Casper Events Center. Lyman won the final three sets in an extremely competitive fashion (25-21, 30-28, 16-14). Fitting, that they won from a big closing hit from senior McKailey Bradshaw, who is one of the elite volleyball players in the Cowboy State and has led her team to victory all season long.
WyoPreps.com captioned its highlight video thumbnail this way: “Lyman caps an undefeated season with an epic win over Rawlins in the 3A title match,” and the highlight video itself includes the attribution: “This was the best championship match we have seen in years.”
Coach Hansen recalls seeing a headline upon leaving the “Oil City,” most likely from the Casper Star-Tribune describing the match as, “An instant classic.”
When the battle was finally won and the Lyman Lady Eagles owned a stellar, one-for-the-ages, undefeated season, Hansen avowed, “The Rawlins coach was very gracious. I told her that may have been the toughest match I’ve ever been involved in, as a player or a coach.”
Hansen recalled a very similar situation when coaching in Idaho prior to relocating to Wyoming when her team lost a five-set state championship match with a flipped 16-14 score, which her Lady Eagles team happened to win by.
“I know how that stings and can keep you up in the night,” Hansen said.
The team should relish this state title and the undefeated season that became the by-product. They were treated to a proud hometown homecoming, as Hansen explains.
“We have an exceptional swimming team, too, including a state champion swimmer,” Hansen relayed, referring to Brynlee Busskohl, who set a new 3A state record in the 100-yard breaststroke in the preliminaries and then broke her own record in the finals with a time of 1:07.36. The old record was 1:08.02, set back in 2003.
“When we pulled off the freeway, she got on the bus with us and we had fire trucks and a line of cars that followed us all the way to the high school where we had a celebration for about 20 minutes at around 12:30 a.m. It was a late night but well worth it,” she added.
The stage has been set for Lyman Lady Eagles volleyball. Hansen shared one more nugget worthy of note.
“Our JV team also went undefeated this season, so I think we’re going to be pretty tough for a couple of years.”
Watch the WyoPreps.com highlight video linked on the Herald’s Facebook page. McKinley Bradshaw’s block at the 1:15 mark, Kassidy Nelson’s block at 1:52, McKailey Bradshaw’s hammer at 2:07 and McKinley’s diving, saving dig at the 2:22 mark in the video. That should tell you all you need to know about 36 and 0.