Defense of the state volleyball title is officially on.
The Hillsboro volleyball team accomplished a major goal Saturday—and savored a bit of revenge in the process—by beating Sedgwick in two games to claim the Class 3A sub-state tournament at Halstead and a berth in the state tournament this weekend in Salina.
Four days after the Cardinals snatched the sub-state’s No. 1 seed from Hillsboro by sweeping both games of their regular-season match at Brown Gymnasium, the Trojans returned the favor at Halstead, 25-14, 25-22.
“Maybe Tuesday night was the best thing for us because it showed us we were human, and that we were going to have to step up and play, regardless of how much talent we had,” coach Sandy Arnold said.
Hillsboro, seeded No. 2 at Halstead, comfortably dispatched No. 7 Marion in the first round, 25-11, 25-13 to end the Warriors’ season with a 14-23 record.
But in the semifinals against fellow Central Kansas League member Haven, the Trojans struggled to find their rhythm. They never led by more than three points until the very end of Game 1, winning 25-21.
In Game 2, they struggled even more, letting an early lead slip away. Hillsboro trailed by as many as four points at 13-9, then rallied to build a lead as large as 21-18. The game was tied again at 22 and then 23 before Haven claimed the final two points and a 25-23 win.
“I probably made the mistake of not preparing for Haven enough,” Arnold said. “When we had played Haven (earlier in the season), it was like 25-11, 25-11— so it’s kind of hard to know what they really can do.”
She said Haven, Hutchinson Trinity and Remington were all possible contenders.
“It could have been any of those,” Arnold said. “You can only do so much. We were mainly trying to focus on what we were doing.”
With Hillsboro’s chance to reach the finals on the line, something happened between games 2 and 3. The Trojans came out in Game 3 on fire, building a 6-1 lead at the start, and never backed off on the way to a relatively easy 25-9 win.
“We did make a slight lineup change that I think was a big, helpful change,” Arnold said. “We also changed our serving a little bit, which kind of goes against my principles. But I tried it anyway and it worked.”
The Trojans continued to burn during the finals against Sedgwick. With the score tied at 9 in Game 1, Hillsboro scored seven straight points with Maci Schlehuber serving and never looked back on the way to a 25-14 win against the stunned Cardinals.
Sedgwick, who came into the tournament with a 35-1 record, regrouped for Game 2 and overcame an early deficit to tie the game at 10, then edged into the lead until a kill by Alex Ratzlaff finally tied the game again at 18.
Sedgwick led for the last time at 21-20. But after a Trojan timeout, Hillsboro reeled off five of the next six points to claim the tournament title, 25-22.
“There definitely was some relief,” Arnold said about nailing down the title. “I felt the pressure, I’m sure the girls felt some, too.”
With the state berth in hand, Arnold said she feels less pressure, not more, to repeat as state champions.
“I think I’m more happy that we got back (to state) to get the chance.” she said. “If we wouldn’t have, I think people would have thought it was a disappointing year despite the fact that we won 37 matches.
“I’m just glad we got back, and now we know we have work to do. I’m just going to take it one match at a time, one day at a time, and see what happens.”