There’s real potential for the Laramie Lady Plainsmen volleyball team to have a special season with the core of the squad returning from last year’s third place finish.

Laramie returns seven starters and eight letterwinners from last season’s 26-9 team. They also finished third in the conference and second at regionals. The only loss from the regular rotation according to third-year head coach Rebecca Baker (formerly Stewart) was Sierra Titensor.

With all the returning players, a lot is expected from the Lady Plainsmen on the court this season.

Head coach Becky Baker admits she loves the high expectations.

“I think the main thing I’ll be looking for from us is that mental toughness. What hurt us at state last year was not being able to come and perform on that first day. You lose that first day, and it affects the rest of the tournament. I think it’s going to be a maturity kind of year, like how do we come out and start from the very beginning. The physical skills, of course, we’ll work on, but I think if we can get a very strong mental game, we’re going to be a team to reckon with.”

It was a different off-season for Laramie volleyball. Coach Baker stepped down in January, when she thought she’d be leaving the community. After circumstances changed, Baker was re-hired in May and comes back for her third year.

“We did lose a little bit of a spring, in terms of me working with the girls, just because I no longer was the actual volleyball coach. Once I got re-hired, I knew I had to jump back in as quickly as I could. We did a lot of work over the summer.”

Baker credits the program’s development and experience with helping get work done in the off-season.

Leading the team this year is a five-member senior class. Shyann Bastian is a returning All-State setter, while classmates Katie Welniak and Lexi Pulley received all-conference honors a year ago.

Bastian and fellow senior Maia Edwards joined KOWB’s David Settle for a player’s perspective on the season, dealing with the pressure of expectations and more. They also had a little fun.

With a more veteran squad, Baker says this year will be a little different, as she’s going to change the system they run from a 5-1 to a 6-2.

“We added Olivia (Elias) to the team, and she is a great setter; bring great energy. That gives us the availability to now run a 6-2, which is going to really spread out our offense; give us three options all the time; allow us to use Shyann as a hitter, which will be a great asset for us, as well… Teams won’t really know what to expect. The girls seem really excited about it.”

Another difference Baker realizes is that they may have a target on their back instead of the growth phase they’ve been in.

“I think they’re going to be able to handle it. I think they already take it as a challenge versus being complacent. They want to live up to that and grow and grow and get better and better. So I think that will end up working in our favor in the end.”

Baker knows three-time defending champion Cheyenne East, as well as Kelly Walsh and Natrona County will all have strong teams. She also doesn’t count out Campbell County, but isn’t quite sure how the split with Thunder Basin in Gillette will affect them.

The Lady Plainsmen open the season with their first five events on the road. They start with the Cheyenne Invite Friday and Saturday. Laramie’s home debut will be Sept. 14 versus Cheyenne South. They will also head to tournaments in Gillette and Casper. They do have the benefit of hosting the 4A East Regional volleyball tournament Oct. 27 and 28. The Wyoming State Volleyball Championships will be Nov. 2-4 in Casper at the Events Center.

As the season begins, Laramie is chasing after the second title in school history. The only previous volleyball state championship won by the Lady Plainsmen came back in 1994.