ROCK SPRINGS – For a while on Saturday afternoon, the Western Wyoming Community College Mustangs looked like they might mimic their season finale from a year ago at Casper College, when they took a two-game lead against their hosts in a Region IX Tournament semifinal and proceeded to drop three straight and send the Thunderbirds to face Northwest College in the final round.
This time the opponent was different – Laramie County Community College – but the setup was the same: Western had won the first two games 28-26 and 25-18 and lost the next two by identical scores of 20-25. But history was not to repeat itself.
“That was a discussion we had prior to the game, that we were not going to allow that to happen, drop that game to them and not make it to the finals,” Mustang Coach Wendy Bider said after the tournament’s conclusion. “We struggled with LCCC, but I never felt like were out of control. I just felt like we weren’t being very consistent. I’m glad we made it past them.”
The Golden Eagles made it interesting, leading the final game by as many as three points, but in the end the Mustangs overpowered their region rivals with a 15-11 final frame, setting themselves up for a rematch with the tournament’s top-seeded powerhouse, Northwest College.
Western had dropped three straight to the Trappers the previous evening, and although the Mustangs played much better on Saturday, they fell several points shy of victory in each game, losing 22-25, 19-25, and 21-25. The third game was the toughest, if only because Western led by one or two points for much of the frame. But NWC tied the game at 21 and surged ahead for the win and the tournament title.
“It was much better than yesterday,” Bider said of her team’s performance. “I wish we could have pushed them to four, and eventually to five, of course. But they had every single one of their players healthy and they were just firing on all cylinders.”
The Region IX runners-up were playing without two sophomore outside hitters - Leah Heger, who was unavailable due to the leg injury she sustained in the Mustangs’ win over Casper on Thursday, and Lauryn Dela Cruz, who was lost for the season to injury earlier in the year. Considering those and other injuries throughout the season, and considering that Bider had joined the team relatively late in the summer following the departure of longtime coach Rick Reynolds, the coach’s pride in her team’s accomplishments was certainly merited.
“Our girls, for being through what we’ve been through … I feel like I could write a novel about our season, and have a movie about it. They’ve withstood a lot of grief, anxiety and stress throughout the season,” said Bider, who enjoyed a long and successful coaching career at Rock Springs High School before joining Western this summer. “I’ve coached for 24 years, and I truly believe that with all of the stuff that we went through, this is still my favorite year, and I feel very blessed to be here. I am going to cherish this year. I’m very thankful for (Vice President for Student Success Services) Jackie Freeze and (Athletic Director) Lu Sweet letting me have the opportunity.”
The Mustangs were well-represented on the All-Tournament and All-Regional Teams that were announced following the conclusion of the final match. Rachel Neilson, Dunja Sobot, Abbie Darling, and Alexa Goulding were all named to the All-Regional Team, and Goulding was voted Setter of the Year. Those same four Mustangs were voted to the All-Tournament Team.