by nathan oster
The makeup of the Class 2A Northwest Conference may have changed, but if the opening weekend of conference play is any indication, the team to beat has not.
The Greybull Buffs surged to an early lead in the race for the league’s top seed by beating conference newcomer Tongue River, 25-17, 23-25, 25-9, 25-11 Friday in Dayton and their longtime rival Rocky Mountain 25-18, 25-18, 25-20 Saturday afternoon at Buff Gym.
“It was a great way to get the regular season going,” Coach Sara Schlattmann said of the two wins. “I felt like the team really did a great job and I was very pleased with our overall play.”
Friday in Dayton, the Buffs were good on 92 percent of their serves and finished with 32 kills, seven aces and 72 digs.
Kaylyn Burns and Kylin Stephens served 100 percent. Kendall Wright had three aces and Payten Sorensen two.
Kendall Stephens led the team in passing out of serve receive and Payten Sorenson and Shayla Cheatham had 19 and 18 digs, respectively.
Cheatham led in kills with nine, followed by Kendall Stephens with eight, Avery Howe with seven kills and two blocks and Payten Sorensen with six kills and four blocks.
Kendall Wright had 18 assists.
“What I love the most about this is that we are doing a good job of spreading the ball out on attack and not relying on any one person,” said Schlattmann. “It makes it tougher to defend, I believe.
“We had a bit of a lapse in game two, but the girls bounced back and I was proud of them for bringing the energy back in the final two sets.”
Schlattmann said she was nervous about the Rocky match because the Grizzlies beat her team earlier in the season, albeit in a tournament setting, and have a “scrappy” team.
“But our girls came to play and I couldn’t have been more pleased,” she said.
The Buffs served 94 percent as a team and finished with 10 aces, 97 digs and eight blocks.
“I felt our passing out of serve receive was strong, affording us more options for attack,” she said. “We played very strong defensively, and controlled the ball well.
“We talk and talk about communicating on the floor and staying excited. I want to be sure to credit our athletes that were on the bench for keeping the level of play high with their excitement. Tatem Edeler, who has been out this season, is still a huge contributor with her leadership on the bench.
“It is amazing how much a difference it makes when our WHOLE team is involved.”
Individually, Kendall Wright and Payten Sorensen led in serving, both going 100 percent from the line, but the whole team was above 90 percent.
In addition, Kendall Wright had four aces, Shayla Cheatham three, Kendall Stephens two.
Defensively, Kendall Wright and Sorensen led in digs with 22 and 21, respectively, followed by Kaylyn Burns with 17 digs. Cheatham again led the team in kills with eight, followed by Kendall Stephens with six, and Avery Howe and Payten Sorensen with five each. Howe had 3 blocks. Wright had 24 assists.
The Buffs will complete their first round of conference play with a home match against Riverside today (Thursday, Sept. 20) at Buff Gym. Match times are 4, 5 and 6 p.m. A road trip to Shoshoni, a nonconference foe, looms Saturday; matches are at noon, 1 and 2 p.m.
“We have not played either team this season, but both of them are well coached,” said Schlattmann. “We must continue to improve our attack options, which starts with improving our passing in defensive situations.
“Shoshoni has a few big hitters that we will have to be aware of and Riverside is always a strong serving team.”