BUFFALO – The Rawlins High School volleyball team traveled north to Buffalo for the 3A East regional tournament Friday and Saturday. The Outlaws made the 520-mile roundtrip worth their while and returned home to Rawlins as regional champions. The regional championship places them in a favorable position in the state bracket.

In the first round on Friday, Rawlins matched up against the 5-23 Newcastle Dogies. According to head coach Aubrey Griffiths, the Dogies came out stronger than anticipated and took an early lead in the first set. Despite the effort, they proved to be no match for the top-ranked Outlaws. Rawlins finished the match in three sets, winning 25-13, 25-10 and 25-11.

The win against Newcastle pushed the Outlaws into the semifinal round against Burns. Griffiths had expected to meet Buffalo in the semi finals, but Burns pulled out an upset in the first round to match up with Rawlins in the semis. The Outlaws, again, proved their dominance against the the 9-22-1 Broncs. The second-round match-up wasn’t close and Rawlins closed it out quickly in three sets. Set one ended 25-7, set two was 25-12 and set three was 25-16, all in favor of the Outlaws.

The win against Burns put Rawlins into the championship game against a familiar foe, the Douglas Bearcats. Douglas entered the tournament as the second-ranked team in the region. Rawlins dropped the first set 23-25. Griffiths noted Douglas came into the first set firing on all cylinders and her Outlaws couldn’t swing the momentum in their direction.

Going into set two, Griffiths took time to settle her team down and make key adjustments.

“We know they have two big hitters and we adjusted our defense to neutralize those hitters,” she said. “I also reminded the girls to keep hitting hard at them and force them to play defense. If we can do that, we can come out on top.”

The adjustments between sets worked and Rawlins roared back in the next sets to secure the match victory and the regional championship. The Outlaws won set two 25-13, set three 25-14 and closed it out with a fourth set win 25-18.

“The girls were a little nervous in the first set but they got those nerves in check and were ready to play – the serves were better and the defense was scrappy,” said Griffiths of the come-from-behind victory.

Saturday’s championship win marks two regional titles in two years for Outlaws volleyball. They were the 2018 regional champions, defeating Douglas then, too. At the close of regional action, Rawlins’ overall record bumped to 34-5. The win at regionals put Rawlins in the best possible position heading into the state championship tournament. They will face Mountain View, who finished in fourth place in the 3A West region. Griffiths will prepare the Outlaws for Mountain View’s scrappy defense. She noted that, while the Buffaloes have a couple of good hitters, their speciality is defense.

Heading into the state championships, Rawlins Outlaws volleyball has pieced together a heck of a season and have been top ranked since the beginning of the season. Do the Outlaws have a target on their backs? Maybe. They were state runners up in both 2017 and 2018 and have handled every 3A opponent in their way this season.

“I do feel like there is some pressure,” said Griffiths. “We’ve taken second the last two years and there are definitely expectations to finally bring a title home.”

Of the pressure, Griffiths has an “it is what it is” mentality. She’s calm and collected because she knows her team has put in the work and has what it takes to win.

“I’m thinking the third time’s the charm,” she said.

The 2019 WHSAA State Volleyball Championships will be held at the Casper Events Center Nov. 7-Nov.9. The Outlaws will play their first match 6 p.m. on Thursday. If Rawlins wins the opening match against Mountain View, they will get the winner of Pinedale and Torrington in the semi-finals.

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