Written by Hillsboro Free Press Tuesday, 29 May 2012 14:23
Hillsboro senior girls hold up their team’s sub-state or regional championship trophy plaques this year in volleyball, basketball and softball. This was the fourth straight year teams from the three sports made it to their respective state tournament.
They weren’t varsity contributors all four years in every sport, and when they did play varsity they benefitted significantly from athletes both older and younger than they were.
But the girls in the Class of 2012 can make one claim no other Hillsboro High School class can make: Each of the three “live and die as a team” sports—volleyball in fall, basketball in winter and softball in spring—made it to their respective state tournaments all four years of their HHS tenure.
Put another way, the Trojans were a perfect 12-0 in regional or sub-state championship contests during that span.
Even with Hillsboro’s strong tradition in girls’ athletics over the years, that level of success is unmatched—even before the start of softball in 1998.
Twice during the 1990s and into the early 2000s, basketball teams coached by Becky Carlson strung together four-year runs to the state tournament. Even though her volleyball teams were frequent state participants during that span, accomplishing four-year streaks in both sports never quite aligned.
Krista Reimer, the only senior to participate in all three sports all four years, said she and her classmates were aware of the history they could make.
“We never really talked about it, just because we didn’t want to jinx it,” she said. “We all thought about it, though. It was one of the first things we said to each other after we won our regional in softball—that’s 12 wins now.”
That the seniors were aware of the accomplishment doesn’t mean they take sole credit for it.
“I don’t think we’ve been the best (class) athletically,” Reimer admitted. “But I think, team-wise, how we got along and just worked together helped people get along well.”
During their first two years, the Class of 2012 had limited impact in volleyball and basketball, but watched as standout performers such as Dakota Kaufman and Candace Weinbrenner led the team to success.
During these past two years, younger players like Tena Loewen, Addie Lackey and Danae Bina emerged as athletically gifted leaders.
“I’ve felt like the last four years we’ve had a group of girls that bought into that team concept,” basketball coach Nathan Hiebert said about the success of his program. “We need the young girls, we need the older girls, we need the girls in between—we need everybody on the team to make us better.
“We need to figure out how each one can benefit and be used to succeed,” he added. “They want to do the best that they can, and they realize that people around them do a great job, too.”
Volleyball coach Sandy Arnold, with whom the seniors won their first state title last fall, said their focus on team success over individual glory can’t be underestimated.
“This is probably what sets them apart from others. They are very team oriented, and for the most part they don’t care who gets the credit,” Arnold said. “They just know they are needed to do their part to make their team better. They are great encouragers and leaders and team players.”
A class with skills
That is no more true than in softball, where six class members stepped into the starting lineup as freshmen and fueled the team to its first state tournament appearance in program history. This past weekend, the team claimed the first state title.
“This a class that has always wanted to win, even when they were in middle school,” said coach Stephanie Sinclair. “They were the kids who were talking about ‘we want to win state.’ It didn’t matter what sport it was.”
Even in softball, this class had plenty of help on the way to an 80-22 record over four years.
“It’s been this class plus the classes around them that make them good,” Sinclair said. “I think about Allie Faul and Taylor Nikkel (2011 grads) playing with them. They’ve just been blessed to have all these classes around them that can throw in some athletes with them. You end up with a class that does a lot of good things during their four years of high school.”
As class members stepped into varsity roles in volleyball and basketball, their contributions may have been lower profile but still important.
“They may not be dominant, but they are all pretty fundamentally sound in their skills,” Arnold said. “When I started here at Hillsboro, these girls were in sixth grade—and they have been coming to my summer camps since that time. So they learned early and mastered the skills they were taught.”
This group of girls’commitment to hard work—in season and out of season—is another common theme among their coaches.
“Courtney Weber, Krista Reimer and Callie Serene were some of the most dedicated girls to the summer weight program,” Hiebert said. “They’ve carried that on, and that’s one thing I love to see because next year’s juniors will come to the weight room and understand the expectations of that and hopefully that carries on.”
Added Arnold: “Many of them were in the weight room every summer, and I really feel it made a difference for them. I know they were also willing to spend time practicing and playing in the summers.”
Another testimony to their athletic skills and dedication has been the success of class members in sports that are more oriented toward individual efforts.
Serene is a four-time state qualifier and three-time medalist in the 800 meters while Weber teamed with her freshman sister, Allison, to take sixth in state tennis this past fall.
“They are a class that is involved in many sports, and when involved they create opportunity for themselves and our programs,” said Dennis Boldt, who has worked with the girls for four years as head coach in track and assistant coach in basketball.
“I guess what appeals to me about this group is having such success without a superstar,” he added. “It makes them dependent upon each other, but they also have to work with some athletes that are, quite frankly, more athletic in classes that surround them.”
Quality of competition
At least one factor that contributes to trips to state tournaments is beyond the control of coaches and athletes: the quality of teams assigned to a particular sub-state or regional tournament.
“We’ve been fortunate with good pairings and right matchups for us,” Hiebert said. “There are some sub-states that are really challenging and some that are not very challenging. There are some where you might have the best two teams in the state, and only one gets to go.
“I’m not trying to take away from the girls, but that’s part of high school athletics.”
Added Boldt: “I feel the competition in our sub-state tournaments has been very favorable for us—not only in the level of competitions, but also in the short travel distance.
“We have defeated quality teams on the road to a state berth, but perhaps we are also fortunate in our seedings and the teams we play prior to the finals, giving us an opportunity to go on to the state level.
“I have coached long enough to know that of the eight or so teams that make it to state—or the competitors in individual event sports like tennis and track—that someone of great talent and ability was left at home due to circumstance.”
Injuries—whether suffered by players on opposing teams or avoided by the local team—is another wild card. To their credit, this year’s basketball and softball teams returned to state despite the loss of Loewen, their best pure athlete, to a knee injury 14 games into the basketball season.
On the other side of the coin, Riley County, champions of this winter’s Trojan Classic—including a lopsided win over Hillsboro in the finals—was the No. 1 ranked basketball team in Class 3A for much of the season but didn’t make it to state this year after losing three starters to injuries over the course of the season.
Aware of history
For all the X factors in play, the balls have bounced right for the Trojans over the past four years. The accomplishment of these three programs over four years is in the books.
“I think it will be like a really high honor,” Reimer said about the legacy of the seniors’ four-year run through HHS. “I know I won’t forget it. Being able to tell other people we made it to state in all three sports all four years—not a lot of people can say that.
“It’s a real high honor, and we’ve been really blessed with good athletes and good teams.”
No other senior class will be able to claim they were the first. But each succeeding class can accomplish the same feat if the streaks continue.
Reality would suggest that can’t happen indefinitely.
“One of these years we’re probably not going to (qualify),” Hiebert said. “It’s one of those things that you never want to be, but it’s probably going to happen.
He added with a grin: “We just don’t want it to be next year.”