In the sixth Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa told his son, “It ain’t about how hard you hit — it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.”
The Powell High School volleyball team has epitomized that resilience this season, and now that resilience has the Lady Panthers set to play at the WHSAA Class 3A State Volleyball Championships in Casper.
Some examples of that resilience include:
• Rallying from a 20-8 deficit in the second set of a match at Lovell on Sept. 21 to take the set — and eventually the match;
• Overcoming a 2-0 deficit at Worland on Oct. 9, winning the last three sets to take the match and remain undefeated in 3A Northwest quadrant play;
• Bouncing back from a grueling loss to Mountain View in the semifinals of the 3A West regional tournament last weekend to sweep Worland in the next match and lock up a state tournament berth; and
• Rallying from a 23-19 deficit against Lander Valley in the fourth set of the 3A West regional third-place match to not only win that set, but also win the fifth set and take the match.
“At times they get nervous and they overthink the game — and it just takes either them reminding each other or me helping remind them that they know this game really well,” PHS coach Randi Bonander said. “They’ve been playing it for years and they’ve been playing together for years, so [they] need to remember to trust each other and just have fun and play the game.”
Powell senior Natalie Ostermiller, one of the team’s two primary setters, said the Lady Panthers prepare for those pressure situations.
“We’ve been practicing the high-stakes circumstances in practice a lot, so I feel like that’s helped us to regain our confidence when we are down in a game,” Ostermiller said.
The Lady Panthers (20-13-1) open state tournament play this afternoon (Thursday) at 3 p.m. against the Douglas Lady Bearcats, the No. 2 seed out of the East region. The two teams met at the Rawlins Invite on Sept. 8, with Powell taking a 21-13, 21-15 win.
“I think that we’re going to be pretty successful, just because we beat them before,” PHS senior Jazlyn Haney said. “We know how they play, we know their strongest player and I feel like we should do pretty good.”
Bonander is also confident ahead of the state tournament opener, but doesn’t expect anything to come easy against the Lady Bearcats.
“[We are] really confident going in there, but knowing that there are still some things that we really are going to have to work on to keep that consistency throughout an entire match,” Bonander said.
Among the things Bonander wants to see her team improve on are her setters not giving tells about where they’re going to set the ball and the Lady Panthers’ blockers getting to every single block — and being able to hold those blocks so the ball goes down, not out of bounds.
“Our passing was actually a lot better [last] weekend, so we’ll continue to work on that,” Bonander said. “The setting and the blocking, I think, were the two things [needing improvement].”
Haney believes Powell is peaking at the right time of the season.
“I think that it [regionals] really helped our confidence just because we started out a little rough during the season and we really pulled it together at regionals,” Haney said. “I feel like because of how we performed at regionals, we are really ready for state and what the competition is.”
Should the Lady Panthers beat Douglas in the tournament opener, they might face the top-ranked Lyman Lady Eagles in the semifinals. Powell is 0-1-1 against the Lady Eagles this season, tying them in pool play at the Rawlins Invite in September and losing 25-22, 25-11, 25-18 at the 3A West Conference Duals Oct. 6 in Lander.
“We’ve seen them enough that we definitely have a good idea of how to maybe deflect some of their enthusiasm,” Bonander said. “Those girls — I look at them and there’s six girls and she [Lyman coach Brecia Hansen] plays them all the way around, so they know each other really well. It’s hard to break that part up in a set or a match, but I think just knowing their tendencies — knowing which hitters go line, which hitters go angle — and just really working on reading the setter and the hitters so that we can get those blocks up, and then our defense being ready.”
Ostermiller said the Lady Panthers need to be on their game to beat Lyman.
“I think honestly it just depends on the day, because we have good days and we have bad days,” Ostermiller said. “We just really need to be on our game that day and [if so] we can beat them.”
Last — but certainly not least — making it to the state tournament for the first time since 2015 is a great way for Powell’s nine seniors to cap their careers. Many of the seniors have played together in some shape or form since childhood.
“It feels great because it feels like all of our hard work together has paid off,” Ostermiller said. “We haven’t made it to state since our freshman year, so it’s nice to end [our careers] that way.”
Bonander — who is also making her first trip to state as the Lady Panthers’ head coach — echoes Ostermiller’s sentiments.
“I’m just really glad that we’re going to state for those girls because they have been working so hard during season and offseasons every year since they’ve been in elementary school,” coach Bonander said. “This is a great reward for them, but we don’t want to stop there — we want to set our sights high and go for that first-place finish.”