BIG PINEY – The match between Big Piney and Wyoming Indian High School was tied at 16 points in the fifth set during the consolation semifinals at the 2A West Regional Championships in Lander.
“We were either going to State or we were going home,” said Big Piney senior Jocie Banks. “I was really nervous – I didn’t know what I was going to do if this was our last game.”
Banks directed her attention to the task at hand.
“I look at my shoes or at the floor – sometimes I just count the boards to keep my head focused on the game,” she said. “I drown out all those other distractions because I know this is a game we can win. I tell myself, ‘You’re in the fifth set, and it’s so important,’ and I just try to breathe.”
Big Piney fell to Rocky Mountain in a five-set heater the night before, and Banks contended with fatigue as the Lady Punchers battled Wyoming Indian the following morning.
“I thought of my team – even if I’m exhausted, I can’t show them that I’m in that mentality,” she said.
Senior Hanna Hansen covered Wyoming Indian’s next hit and bumped the ball to Banks. Banks set the ball up in the perfect position for senior Ceci Sambrano to slam over a kill. Hansen then aced match point.
“We were all proud of that game,” said Banks. “We made our coach (Kinsy Voss) cry for the first time. We kept fighting and I don’t think anybody on the team was ready to be done. I felt like we wanted it more, so let’s work for it.”
Big Piney punched its ticket to State for the first time in four years. Bolstered by the victory over Wyoming Indian, the Lady Punchers snagged third place at Regionals in a clean sweep against Shoshoni.
Big Piney’s performance at Lander reflected the team’s successful season and, for the first time since 2017, a Lady Puncher earned All-State honors.
In addition to making the 2A All-State roster, the Wyoming Coaches Association recognized Banks as an All-Conference athlete and the 2A Southwest Conference Player of the Year.
Banks humbly recognized her coaches and team for the blood, sweat and tears put into making 2021 a remarkable year for the Lady Punchers.
“The entire season was just more enjoyable,” she said. “The energy felt so different compared to last year. It’s going to be more memorable to me just because of that simple thing, the energy.”
Team chemistry and quiet leadership
The first three years of Banks’ career with the Lady Punchers proved anything but easy as the team struggled to break out of a rut.
“It was a rough couple of seasons,” she said. “Our skill level wasn’t where it should have been. It was hard to go into games and always feel like we were going to lose.”
The 2021 season opened mixed for Big Piney with the team picking up roughly the same number of losses as wins in tournament play.
Once regular conference play was underway, the Lady Punchers scored one win after another.
The turning point for Banks was the 3-2 homecoming victory against Wind River High School on Sept. 17.
“We went into five sets against Wind River and just kept fighting,” Banks said. “We said to ourselves, ‘This is a game we can win.’ When we beat Wind River, we were all like, ‘This has the potential to be a really good year if we work for it.’”
The winning streak continued as the Lady Punchers defeated St. Stephens and Wyoming Indian, wrapping the season up with a 6-0 quadrant record.
The team’s rhythm and ability to work together showed significant improvement as the season progressed.
“I feel like the chemistry our team had was a lot stronger and it was harder to break this year than it was in previous years,” Banks said. “We were able to communicate better, to know whose ball it was, or be able to realize if someone wasn’t having a good game and pick up their slack a little bit.”
The teamwork created a supportive and easygoing atmosphere, Banks added.
“There was less pressure on everybody. I felt like everyone was just more relaxed this year and focused on making it a good year.”
Banks played a pivotal role on the team this year, both as the setter and as one of the team captains. Banks established her own leadership style.
“I’m very quiet,” Banks said. “Leading by example is where I thrive. If a teammate was struggling, especially with their sets, I would try not to be aggressive, not to say, ‘You need to do this better,’ but tell them, ‘If you try this, it might help you.’”
During games, Banks got down to business.
“Even if I felt like I was having a bad game, I tried not to show it that much,” she said. “I’ve been told many times that I have a really serious face and that I should try to look like I’m enjoying the game more. But I think that helps people realize I’m more focused and not in my head a lot and am able to help the team stay up.”
Banks’ cool composure on the court and work ethic served as an example for the team.
“I tried to go into practice everyday ready to work, ready to be there, happy to be there, so that the energy we had was more positive and we were willing to improve and reach those goals we made at the beginning of the year.”
Setting up for success
Banks began her volleyball career as a Big Piney Middle School Rustler in sixth grade.
“It was definitely a little awkward at first,” she said. “I had to work to become coordinated enough to be good at volleyball.”
Banks did hit the court with a level of athletic ability achieved through the school of hard knocks – playing basketball at home with her older brothers.
In high school, Banks settled into the role of setter. Setters do not always get all the glory, typically passing the ball for other players to spike over the net.
“Setting is kind of something I’ve always done,” she said. “We’ve lacked setters on the team, so there’s never really been much chance for me to switch from that position. I like it, though. I get to play a lot, so that’s always nice.”
Banks’ role was not entirely limited to setting. She slammed over her fair share of kills and aces this season.
As volleyball season came to a close, Banks is already gearing up for basketball season. The senior is also a member of the National Honor Society and Student Council. Outside of school, Banks enjoys hunting and fishing with her father and brothers.
Banks is considering numerous options after high school, from cosmetology to occupational therapy.
“I’ll cross that bridge when it comes,” she said, adding that she plans to pursue higher education in Wyoming.
Banks gave a shoutout to her coaches this year for “pushing me to do my best,” her parents for “always sticking by my side and supporting me” and her grandmother for supplying the team with treats for the long bus rides.
Banks also thanked her sister for sharpening her volleyball skills over the summer and “my team for sticking by me all these years.”