Like an overly enthusiastic parent, Angel Sharman was just glad to get off the roller coaster.


That’s what the 2011 season felt like. That Thunderbird flock never flew in a “V” and never landed in the same place. They still made a late charge to finish strong at the Region IX tournament, but ended a frustrating 19-21 campaign with their best player injured and on the bench.

Sharman has taken her Casper College teams to the national tournament three times, so naturally that finish fell short of team goals. She thinks 2012 can be different.

“Already, this is a team that has connected,” the CC coach said. “When we hustle and communicate with each other, we are scrappy. There are times when it is not pretty but we get the ball back in play. I like that.”

Sharman also likes the fact that this year’s roster of Thunderbirds includes key returning players, a big front wall, and depth – “15 (players) can come in if someone is struggling.”

All those factors have the veteran Thunderbird coach cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season.

Stanka Panic, the aforementioned team leader in kills a year ago, is back with a repaired knee. So far the news is good, according to her coach. “She is running and jumping fine,” Sharman says. “For her it will be mostly mental at this point.”

Panic, a native of Serbia, averaged 3.49 kills and 4.12 digs per game a year ago. Fellow countrywoman Milica Nisavic (8.65 assists) also returns for Casper. “Milica came back a little quicker, and the fact that it is her second time around is a real plus,” Sharman said.

Dallas Garbett (Evanston), Fallyn Griffin (Casper) and Kylie Johnson (Firth, Idaho) are back up front but are competing against some talented freshmen for starting spots.

Sharman knows Nisavic can find her hitters. What has the T-Bird coach smiling is the way this bunch goes after the ball. Alyssa Hagstrom (Evanston) has improved and will help anchor the defense. The only other returning player Kanoe Kaaa (Hawaii) has been one of the most pleasant surprises. She moved to the libero position and has earned high praise from her coach. “She is a great defensive player,” Sharman says. “She has some of the best ball control capability we’ve had.” That is saying something considering the outstanding liberos Sharman has had (Breanna Wood, Kylie Peck, Trisha Clark).

Griffin, the Kelly Walsh graduate, battled injury a year ago. If she can overcome early workout bruises she can play a full rotation. Sharman likes the leadership shown by Garbett.

Every one of the freshmen this year are good enough to compete for a spot, Sharman says. Melina Bachtar (Layton, Utah) has been very aggressive at the net and can play all the way across. Sydney Marchant, from nearby Draper, Utah, has been “very strong and tough” with great ball control.

Maggie Butler (Casper Kelly Walsh) and Krystal Harward (Orem, Utah) are a formidable blocking tandem. Both are learning the speed of the college game, but “when we get the block closed we are tough.” Look for Butler to play the right side, but she has been so impressive in practice she could start in the middle or on the outside.

Staylee Brown (Casper Natrona) is coming off a redshirt season. Kulia Murray joined Kaaa here from Hawaii. She will back up Nisavic at the setter position and can play the right side. Marija Skopljak (Serbia) gives Sharman another solid defender in the back row. She and Rahnee Jackson (Casper Natrona) simply need time to adjust to the speed of play in college, Sharman says.

One thing Sharman has always believed in is playing people. This year’s schedule certainly bears that out. The T-Birds open their season at the College of Southern Idaho tournament. They will play two top 10 opponents there and return home to sixth-ranked Western Nebraska Aug. 28. Then it’s on the road to Vernon College (Texas) and a rugged bracket there.

“I always like to play people,” Sharman says. “We need to show these Birds the caliber of teams they will play against at the national tournament. I just have to make sure we don’t get down on ourselves if we lose some matches early. I think we are mentally strong enough to play this kind of schedule.”

If the T-Birds can weather that early schedule storm and come together like Sharman thinks they can, look for Casper College to reclaim the perch atop Region IX North.


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