Lady Panthers outlast Pine Bluffs to win fourth state title in five years
As they inched toward the final point of the state championship match, they could hardly contain themselves. After Pine Bluffs scored consecutive points to cut the lead to 24–17 in the fourth set, the Lady Panthers settled down and regrouped one last time.
On the bench, Teresa Meza leaped high into the air with anticipation as the final rally made its way back and forth across the net. Moments later, Shelby Apodaca hit a fist shot over the net and the ball landed untouched on the floor at the Casper Events Center. It was all over. Kindall Seamands opened her arms with pure joy as teammates rushed the court to celebrate everything they had worked for over the course of the season. The Lady Panthers were 2A state champions.
“It doesn’t feel real,” junior outside hitter Jozi Edwards said shortly after Wright defeated Pine Bluffs. “This is what we’ve been working for all year. Every practice we went in to work to get that state championship. Not everyone gets this opportunity . . . it’s an amazing feeling.”
For Wright, the journey back to the Casper Events Center began well before its first tournament in Douglas at the end of August. It started over the summer with offseason workouts and camps. After being swept by Sundance in last year’s state title match, the Lady Panthers were determined to write a different story for themselves in 2018.
The road back was long and not without its share of obstacles. But with a strong core group of seniors and a team that knew what it took to return to the top, the Lady Panthers never doubted themselves.
After starting slow in the first set against Pine Bluffs, a 23–25 loss and their first set dropped since Oct. 13, Wright stormed back to win the next three sets and outmatched the Lady Hornets just as they did the weekend before at the 2A East Regional.
“This team is very persistent,” head coach Sarah Seamands said. “They gel together as a team. These seniors have been playing volleyball together since third grade and they know what it takes to be champions.”
The Lady Panthers are a force to be reckoned with at the Wyoming State High School Volleyball Championships. With Saturday’s win, they captured their fourth state title in five years and ended the season on a 20-game winning streak.
But even as they continued their celebration on the court well after the match ended, Seamands couldn’t help but think back to a week earlier.
“To be honest, I was nervous in our regional tournament,” she said. “I was nervous to just make it out of the region and then we get here and I was just hoping to take it game by game. I didn’t even know what time we played.”
The nerves turned out to be no problem as the Lady Panthers cruised through their opening round matchup with No. 4 West seed Kemmerer in three sets on Thursday. After starting slow, much like they did against Pine Bluffs, they overcame early mistakes and quickly found their rhythm.
In the semifinals against the upstart No. 2 West seed Shoshoni Lady Wranglers, Wright found itself up against a small, yet aggressive team. Shoshoni hung close with Wright in the first set but succumbed to unforced errors and strong play at the net by Brandi Fuller and Apodaca. The Lady Wranglers dropped the first set 22–25 and fell behind early in sets two and three and were ultimately swept.
The Panther faithful traveled well to Casper and even during the second day of action on Friday, Wright largely embraced its “hype squad”.
“We love the environment here,” senior Grace Trandahl said about playing in the Events Center. “It’s our favorite place to play by far.”
That hype squad returned for the championship match with intensity and helped aid the Lady Panthers to their most complete performance of the tournament.
“We came out a little slow the first day, got better the second day and really put it all together today,” Edwards said, still trying to catch her breath after the championship match.
Much of that transformation in Casper was due to Wright’s large contingent of seniors, consisting of Riley Langston, Morgan Preston, Seamands, Trandahl, Apodaca and Fuller.
Even after surrendering early momentum to Pine Bluffs in the championship, those seniors carried the Lady Panthers back to level ground and from there the rest was history.
“That’s what senior leadership does for you,” Seamands reiterated. “You have kids who have been here before, they didn’t panic. Even after that first set I told them it was a great game but we just happened to be on the losing end of it.
“We had some unforced errors at the beginning but it was just a matter of relaxing and playing their game. I have confidence in them and they have confidence in themselves.”
As Seamands said it best, this year’s team has been a “coach’s dream”.
“They came in expecting this and they should have,” she said. “Losing to Sundance last year was definitely a motivator. It was nice to get back here and I’m glad we got to play Pine Bluffs in the state championship because I wouldn’t have wanted to play anybody else.”
She paused, then continued, “Pine (Bluffs) is a great team. I wanted the girls to go out knowing they played the best and Pine is the best. I told them let’s play the best and beat the best so that we’re the best and there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind. They deserve everything that they got this year.”
The storied tradition of the Wright volleyball program continues with another state title, its sixth in school history.
But it couldn’t have been done without all of those involved.
“I want to thank the girls but also our fans, the hype squad and everyone that came out and supported us,” Edwards said. “It means more than they know. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
For Seamands, the simplicities of coaching this year’s team leaves her with much to reflect on as the Lady Panthers head into the offseason.
They had a mission when they began the season. They achieved that mission. And now, they’ll forever be remembered as state champions.
“I just kind’ve stood back and watched them,” she said.
“They’re a coach’s dream. Anybody who would leave these kids is crazy. You stay with these kids.
“I’ll go in a fox hole with them.”
Seniors Grace Trandahl and Kindall Seamands were named to the Wyoming 2A All-State team for the second straight year. They’re joined this year by junior Jozi Edwards who was named to the All-State team for the first time.
Trandahl, Seamands and Edwards were also named to the 2A Northeast All-Conference team and are joined by Shelby Apodaca and Brandi Fuller. Trandahl was also named the 2A Northeast Player of the Year.