Lady Rustlers split matches in Missouri, finish seventh in the Nation  

By: Shawn O’Brate

WEST PLAINS, MO. – The Central Wyoming College (CWC) Lady Rustlers had one hell of a season last year, ending with a ninth-place finish in the nation with a loss in the first round of the NJCAA Division One National Tournament, leading to high expectations all season long this year. 

Head Coach Darshaya Gallard and her girls all responded extremely well after such a phenomenal ending to the 2021-22 season, even after starting 4-6. After that start the Lady Rustlers would rattle off 19 wins in their next 20 matches as they found their groove and had some players return from injury. 

That all led to the Lady Rustlers completing one of their many goals at the beginning of the season: getting back to the National Tournament. This happened through an at-large bid after losing in the Region IX Conference Championships in early November. 

“I’m honestly really happy,” Coach Gallard said after returning from Missouri. “I’m happy about where they ended. I’m happy with the amount of growth I saw from most of the girls.” 

Their first game of the National Tournament was against Utah State University Eastern (USUE), a team that beat the Lady Rustlers back in September by a score of 3-1. 

“That first game against them we didn’t have our starting right side hitter, Marin Freeland, and we didn’t really play that well in that [SLCC Crystal Invitational] Tournament,” Coach Gallard said. 

CWC Sophomore Missy Mortensen went for the spike against a tough Trinity Valley team to close out the National Tournament games for the Lady Rustlers. (p/c Jennifer Marshall / CWC Athletics)

Coach Gallard was correct in believing they were good enough to beat USUE despite their previous matchup, because that’s exactly what they did in five sets (21-25, 25-15, 22-25, 25-13, 15-13) on Thursday (pick up a Weekend edition of the Ranger or Lander Journal for more in-depth analysis on that game).  

“It was awesome, that’s really a big accomplishment for this team because when we beat them we pretty much beat nine teams,” Coach Gallard explained. “We knew getting that first win was a huge step; it showed us growing from last year when we lost in the first round and then won the next three.”

After beating USUE, the Lady Rustlers had to have a quick turnaround and play the #1 team in the tournament, Florida SouthWestern State College, whom they would lose to in three straight sets (21-25, 15-25, 17-25). 

“We played Florida [SouthWestern] well I think. I think we played them with everything we could,” Coach Gallard said about the loss. “We made a couple errors and they don’t really make errors. But, we lost with class, and we left feeling good about ourselves even though we lost.” 

The Florida SouthWestern team was number one for a reason, mainly the size and strength of the international student-athletes that fill their team, especially the heavy-hitters from Brazil. 

On the second day of play the Lady Rustlers started off by losing to Western Nebraska Community College, a team that CWC went 1-1 against in the regular season, in three straight sets (22-25, 16-25, 12-25). This loss got under Coach Gallard’s skin, especially after they lost to the same team in the Region IX Conference Tournament just two weeks before. 

“I got mad,” Coach Gallard explained. “I told them ‘If you’re not focused on winning then go paint a picture … go do something not competitive’ because winning needs to be the main priority today.”

The team obviously received the message that Coach Gallard was trying to instill in her agitated speech following Friday’s game, because the girls came to play on Saturday against Trinity Valley Community College. 

CWC came out swinging, winning the first two sets in nail-biting fashion before letting the Trinity Valley team come back and force the match into a fifth-and-final set. 

“We came out Saturday and just fought, fought for every point, every set, everything,” Coach Gallard said about the final match. 

Eventually the Lady Rustlers would pull out the victory in the fifth set (25-22, 25-23, 21-25, 20-25, 15-9), placing them at seventh in the nation when it was all said and done.

The Lady Rustlers celebrated a huge victory in Missouri at the NJCAA D1 Volleyball National Championships. (p/c Jennifer Marshall / CWC Athletics)

“Our goal was to get top five so, obviously, we didn’t hit that but based on our resources and seeing other teams that have thousands of students when we only have 800 … it’s amazing what we did,” Coach Gallard said. “The tournament was good, overall, we had a lot more ups and downs than we wanted but the moments we were down really helped the moments we were up.”

At the end of the weekend CWC Freshman Alicja Jaryszek was named to the All-Tournament team alongside 11 of the best volleyball players in the country, Haruka Sugimoto was named a nominee for All-American status after finishing seventh overall in digs, and Lauryn Arnold finished number one in the nation in block assists.

“I just want to thank the school and the community so much for supporting us all season, it was really awesome,” Coach Gallard gushed at the end of weekend. 

Now that the season is over it’s back to the drawing board for Coach Gallard and her Assistant Coach Cali Simms as recruiting season begins in the spring. But, despite losing extremely strong players like Sugimoto, Arnold and Brinley Smith, Coach Gallard still believes her team will be “super solid” with 10-11 returning players that all have National Tournament experience now. 

Congratulations to the CWC Lady Rustlers on yet another outstanding season that ended with them being ranked in the top ten, a true accomplishment that brings pride to the entire school and all of Fremont County!